Profile: Granville T. Woods (1856-1910)

Known as “Black Edison,” Granville Woods was an African American inventor who made key contributions to the development of the telephone, streetcar, and more.
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Who Was Granville T. Woods?

Granville T. Woods, born to free African Americans, held various engineering and industrial jobs before establishing a company to develop electrical apparatus. Known as “Black Edison,” he registered nearly 60 patents in his lifetime, including a telephone transmitter, a trolley wheel, and the multiplex telegraph (over which he defeated a lawsuit by Thomas Edison).

Early Life

Born in Columbus, Ohio, on April 23, 1856, to free African Americans, Woods received little schooling as a young man and, in his early teens, took up a variety of jobs, including as a railroad engineer in a railroad machine shop, as an engineer on a British ship, in a steel mill, and as a railroad worker. From 1876 to 1878, Woods lived in New York City, taking courses in engineering and electricity — a subject that he realized, early on, held the key to the future.

Back in Ohio in the summer of 1878, Woods was employed for eight months by the Springfield, Jackson and Pomeroy Railroad Company to work at the pumping stations and the shifting of cars in the city of Washington Court House, Ohio. He was then employed by the Dayton and Southeastern Railway Company as an engineer for 13 months.

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