Granville T. Woods


The Visionary: An Engineer, Inventor, and Entrepreneur

  • Sometimes called the “Black Edison,” Granville Woods was a noted inventor and entrepreneur with nearly 60 patents to his name when he died in 1910. Many of his patents were for electrical devices, such as a combined telephone and telegraph device (later acquired by Alexander Graham Bell for a substantial sum). During his career, he sold many of his patents to leading companies, including General Electric and Westinghouse.
  • Born on the eve of the Civil War in Columbus, Ohio, Woods had little formal education, finishing school at age 10. He gained experience instead by working machinist and engineering jobs in a railroad machine shop, steel mill, and on a ship. As a young adult in New York City, Woods discovered his passion for invention after taking courses in engineering and electricity.
  • In 1880, Woods established his electrical engineering and invention business in Cincinatti, Ohio. He famously defeated two lawsuits brought by Thomas Edison challenging the patent for his multiplex telegraph. He subsequently rejected Edison’s offer to become partners, continuing to invent and accumulate more patents through his company, which he relocated to New York and operated with his brother, Lyates Woods, who was also an inventor.

Building a Trusted Future

  • Woods made key contributions to the emergence of the modern telephone with his multiplex “induction” telegraph invention, which allowed voice communication over telegraph wires. The device was credited with reducing train accidents and other errors because it allowed operators to send and receive important messages more quickly than before.
  • Woods, a former railroad engineer, is also responsible for transit-related inventions that remain relevant and familiar to riders today. In addition to his “troller” invention, a metal wheel that streetcars could use to obtain power from overhead wires, Granville is credited with improving existing “third rail” technology so it could be used to power underground electric trains.
  • For African Americans of the late ninetieth and early twentieth centuries, Woods was an icon and often celebrated as “the greatest of Negro inventors” by black newspaper writers.