Black History Month: Transportation Industry Innovations

Posted on by Isabelle Brown

How can we fit a lifetime of history, accomplishments, and innovation into a single month? We make the most of every day. We do our part to teach, learn, and spread appreciation for those who may not have been respected or recognized in the past based on the color of their skin.

We must, as a nation, speak on the too-often overlooked achievements and contributions from Black Americans throughout history. We want to start Black History Month off by recognizing two inventors who altered the transportation industry and helped to innovate the sector as we know it today.

Granville T. Woods: First Telegraph Service for Moving Trains

Granville T. Woods registered nearly 60 patents in his lifetime and was a gifted engineer and inventor. From his teenage years, Woods worked a variety of jobs in the railroad industry—the area of work that would hold the key to his future.

Among Woods’ numerous inventions, the one that goes down in history as his most important is the induction telegraph. Created in 1887, this device allowed people to communicate over telegraph wires on moving trains, helping to speed up communication and go on to prevent train accidents and control other crucial errors.

Woods was proclaimed “the greatest electrician in the world” in his lifetime. He sold patents to some of the most famous inventors in history, like Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison. Edison actually battled Woods over patents multiple times and lost each case.

(Photo: Courtesy of The Booklovers Magazine, 1903)

Garrett Morgan: The Three-Light Traffic Signal

It’s hard to imagine driving without traffic lights to tell us to stop, go, and slow down. Until Garrett Morgan’s invention, the common traffic light only had ‘stop’ and ‘go’ signals. In the city of Cleveland, Ohio in 1923, Morgan hatched the idea of including a warning light after witnessing an awful carriage accident at an intersection.

Morgan's original patent drawing, 1923

The first black man in Cleveland to own a car, Morgan was more than just an inventor. He was a local hero, and a diligent activist for social and racial issues of his time. We urge you to read up on his fascinating life, especially how he became recognized as a hero for his invention of the gas mask and his contribution in the Lake Erie Rescue of 1916.

Can you begin to picture how many lives have been saved since Morgan’s invention of the traffic light? This innovation made life substantially safer for both motorists and pedestrians alike, and is still built upon today.

(Photo: Courtesy of the Department of Transportation)