Granville T. Woods (1856–1910) patented his first electric device, an improved telephone transmitter, on December 2, 1884. By 1900 Woods—often called the “Black Edison”—had received twenty-two patents, most dealing with electricity used in railway telegraphy systems and electric railways. He was born free in Columbus, Ohio, where he completed only three years of schooling. Woods was self-educated, however, and spent considerable time in public libraries reading about electricity. After an apprenticeship as a machinist and blacksmith, Woods worked principally on railroads, becoming a locomotive engineer before founding, around 1884, the Woods Electric Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. On January 3 of that year he patented a steam boiler furnace, and on December 2 he patented a telephone transmitter. Perhaps the most advanced devices among his inventions was the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph that he patented in 1887, allowing moving trains to communicate with each other and with railroad stations to avoid accidents. Woods moved to New York in 1890 and patented an automatic air brake, which was purchased by George Westinghouse in 1902. His inventions paved the way for the development of the electric streetcar.
Granville T. Woods’s numerous electrical inventions earned him the nickname “the Black Edison.”