Our History: Granville T. Woods aka “The Black Edison”

December 2, 1884: The telephone was invented by Granville T. Woods. His invention was far more superior to the invention of Alexander Graham Bell.

Born on April 23, 1856 in Columbus, Ohio, Granville T. Woods attended school sporadically until he was ten years old and then went to work in a machine shop. At sixteen, his wanderlust led to the augmentation of his elementary engineering knowledge via a series of related jobs and eventual formal training at an eastern college.

Despite his engineering skill and credentials, it was obvious to him that advancement in these jobs was virtually nil. Taking a proactive approach, he formed his own company, Woods’ Railway Telegraph Company, to produce and market his telegraph and other inventions.

During his lifetime, he held over thirty-five patents. More than a dozen of these patents were inventions for electric railways but most of them were focused on electrical control and distribution.

His most remarkable invention, however, was the induction telegraph, a system for communicating to and from moving trains. Woods successfully defended lawsuits against his patent—two by Thomas Edison and one by another inventor named Phelps. In the wake of his loss, Edison tried to offer Woods a job and buy his company, but his offer was flatly rejected. Edison upped the ante by offering Woods a partnership in one of his various companies, but Woods preferred to remain independent.

Woods’s inventions include:

  • a device that coupled the function of the telephone and telegraph—purchased by Alexander Graham Bell
  • an air-brake system—purchased by George Westinghouse
  • the power system known as “the third rail”—a conductor of electricity set parallel to the subway’s tracks
  • a thermostatically controlled egg incubator