Granville T.Woods,inventor,patented the Telephone Transmitter,his second invention,on this date December 2nd 1884.
Born April 23, 1856, in Columbus, OH; died January 30, 1910, in New York City; son of Tailer and Martha Woods.
Education: Studied mechanical and electrical engineering at an East Coast college, 1876-78.
Apprenticed as a machinist and blacksmith in Columbus, OH, 1866-72; worked as a fireman and then as an engineer for the Iron Mountain Railroad in Missouri, 1872-74; worked in a rolling mill in Springfield, IL, 1874-76; part-time machine shop worker in New York City, 1876-78; engineer aboard the British steamer Ironsides, 1878-80; ran a steam locomotive on the Danville and Southern Railroad in Cincinnati, OH, 1880-84; founder, with brother, Lyates, of the Woods Electric Company in Cincinnati, 1884; worked as an inventor in New York City, 1890-1910. Granted first patent, June 3, 1884, for a steam boiler furnace; received approximately 60 additional patents (over 35 dealing with electrical systems), including 15 in the field of electric railways. Major inventions included an improved telephone transmitter, 1884; an electrical apparatus for transmitting messages, 1885; an induction telegraph system, 1887; a galvanic battery, 1888; an automatic safety cut-out for electric currents, 1889; a re-electric railway supply system, 1893; a regulator for electric motors, 1896; an egg incubator, 1900; and an automatic air brake, 1902. Many of Woods's patents were assigned to General Electric Company, American Bell Telephone Company, Westinghouse Air Brake Company, and American Engineering Company.
Within the landscape of the American Industrial Revolution, in the field of urban electrification and communication, stand prominent inventors such as Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and Alexander Graham Bell. Their place is recognized, their achievements heralded. But they are not alone. Obscured by the shadows of history, and even more by the dark denial of recognition, is the figure of Granville T. Woods, a contemporary of Edison, Westinghouse, and Bell and one of that era's most prolific and substantive inventors.
At the time of his death in 1910, Woods had been granted approximately 60 patents, mostly relating to electrical subjects. His inventions revolutionized railway and telegraph communication and ironically helped in the growth of his competitors' companies--General Electric, Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing, and American Bell Telephone. At the time of his death, though, Woods was virtually penniless.
"Before the Civil War, slavery and racial sentiments did much to hamper the recognition of black inventors," Michael C. Christopher explained in the Journal of Black Studies. "Slaves were not allowed to receive patents or assign them to others. Because slaves were not citizens, they were not allowed to enter into contracts with the government or private citizens." The end of the U.S. Civil War in 1865 provided black inventors legal recognition, but it failed to foster complete social acceptance. Bound by legal restrictions to acknowledge black inventors after the war, white society merely altered its view of these individuals: adhering to the racist notion that blacks lacked the higher capacity to create and invent, many whites attributed black ingenuity to the white bloodlines so frequently present in people of color. This flagrant altering of personal history was further perpetuated by some black inventors themselves who "refused to acknowledge they were black because they feared a decline in the commercial value of their inventions if their ethnic background was publicized," Christopher pointed out. Following the war, then, the identity of black inventors was accepted, but their past--who they really were--was not.
Woods was born into this culture of division on April 23, 1856, in Columbus, Ohio, five years before the start of the Civil War. But he was born a free black because the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 prohibited slavery from the territory that included the future state of Ohio. Beginning shortly after its admission to the Union in 1803, however, Ohio adopted "Black Codes," or laws that restricted the participation of blacks in the state militia, in public education, and in certain legal matters. By the time Woods began attending school, the state had modified its ban on public education, but the lives of blacks were still severely regulated: at the age of ten, Woods was forced to leave school and apprentice as a machinist and blacksmith in a machine shop. Child labor laws would not come into effect for another seventy years.
Woods's lifelong interest and education--mostly self-taught--in electrical and mechanical engineering began in this machine shop. He absorbed as much information as he could about the workings of a machine he ran. Others he learned about simply by watching. And still other times, so deep was his desire for knowledge, he used his own earnings to pay the master mechanic at the shop for private instruction. With each subsequent job, Woods learned more, and his increased knowledge gained him more skilled positions.
In 1872, at the age of sixteen, Woods left Ohio and, in what can be best described as his travel-and-study period, worked various jobs around the country, augmenting the practical knowledge gained from those positions with readings at night. His first stop was at the Iron Mountain Railroad in Missouri, where he worked as a fireman and, later, an engineer. His interest in electricity and its application to railroads began there. In 1874, he moved to Springfield, Illinois, to work in a rolling mill.
Woods's study and working knowledge of mechanics and electricity enabled him in 1876 to qualify to take courses in mechanical and electrical engineering at an eastern college. Working during the day in a New York City machine shop, Woods attended classes at night for two years. He left school in 1878 and signed on as an engineer aboard a British steamer, the Ironsides, embarking on a two-year tour that took him to nearly every continent in the world. In 1880 he returned to the United States to work as a steam locomotive engineer for the Danville and Southern Railroad in Cincinnati, Ohio, a position he held for four years.
Although his work record and his education should have entitled him to more responsible positions, he was constantly denied them. "Not only did he have to face a lack of advancement in his jobs because of his color," Jim Haskins wrote in Outward Dreams, "but there was no means by which he could ever achieve a position of influence while working for others." The Civil War had been over for almost twenty years, but the climate in the country had hardly stirred. Fortunately, his knowledge of mechanical and electrical applications gained from his years of journeyman work proved fruitful for Woods. In 1884 he received his first patent, for a more efficient version of a steam boiler furnace. That same year, along with his brother Lyates, Woods opened the Woods Electric Company in Cincinnati to produce and market his own inventions. He had begun his defining career as an inventor.
The legalities of patent assignment and regulation did not work to Woods's advantage. The U.S. Government grants patents for any new or useful machine or process or manufacturing method, or for an improvement of any previous machine or process or method. A patent gives its owner, the patentee, the sole right to manufacture, use, and sell that particular invention. Patents are, in a sense, recognized as personal property. If others try to make, use, or sell a patentee's invention, they are guilty of patent infringement and may be sued by the patentee. There are two instances, however, when an inventor may lose his right to a patent for his invention. First, if an inventor does not have enough money to manufacture and market his invention, the patent is then assigned, or sold, to another individual or company that has the necessary capital. Second, the inventor may simply wish to sell his patent outright. In either case, once the patent is assigned to someone else, the inventor gives up all legal and monetary claims to that invention.
Woods's first two electrical inventions dealt with sound transmission. In December of 1884 he was granted a patent for a telephone transmitter, an apparatus that conducted sound over an electrical current. Alexander Graham Bell had already developed a telephonic device almost a decade earlier, but Woods's instrument far surpassed any models then in use, carrying a louder and more distinct sound over a longer distance. The physical properties by which the device operated are still employed in modern telephones. Despite Woods's visionary achievement, patent guidelines dictated that the patent be assigned to a company that had the mechanical and monetary means to manufacture such a device. The patent was assigned to the American Bell Telephone Company.
Less than a year later, Woods was granted a patent for a mechanism he called a "telegraphony," a combination telegraph and telephone, which could transmit both oral and signal messages. Prior to Woods's invention, the telegraph could only send messages over an electrical current utilizing a combination of short and long pulses (commonly referred to as dots and dashes) that represent letters of the alphabet. Developed by Samuel Morse in 1838, this "Morse code," as it came to be known, became the language of the telegraph. It therefore demanded that operators on either end of a telegraphic transmission be fully versed in both Morse code and in the operation of the sending key apparatus.
Woods's invention, however, gave almost everyone, regardless of their knowledge of telegraphs, the chance to send messages. If a person were unfamiliar with Morse code, he simply could flip a switch on the telegraph and speak near the sending key. The message would then be heard on the receiving end as articulate speech. Because of the understandable great demand for such an invention, Woods decided to sell his patent, allowing a larger company to manufacture the device. He was paid generously for the patent by the American Bell Telephone Company.
Over the next 25 years, Woods's inventions were numerous and varied, from an incubator that provided a constant temperature for the hatching of chicks to a series of tracks used by motor vehicles at amusement parks. "Woods also invented an improved system for transferring electric current to street cars," Portia P. James explained in The Real McCoy. "He designed a grooved wheel that allowed the car to receive the electrical current while reducing friction. This wheel, called a troller, is the source of the popular name for a street car, trolley car." Woods held over 35 patents on electromechanical devices, a dozen of which improved the electric railway system. But his greatest invention improved electrical communication between trains.
On November 29, 1887, Woods received a patent for his Induction Telegraph System, also called the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph. Communication between moving trains and between a moving train and a railroad station had previously been poor. In a telegraph system, a continuous wire must exist between a sending key and a receiving sounder. Ordinary telegraph wires were usually run along railroad tracks, but for a telegraph system to work aboard the train, part of the train had to have been in constant contact with these wires. Because of the jostling movement of trains, most messages sent or received were incomplete. Numerous times, warnings of washed-out bridges, rock slides, and other obstructions failed to reach a train in time. Still other times, trains learned too late--or not at all--of the location of other trains on the same track.
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