Inventor of the Week Archive
for a different Invention or Inventor
The Multiplex Telegraph
T. Woods (1856-1910) is known to many as "The Black Edison," because both were
great inventors who came from disadvantaged childhoods. But unlike Edison, Woods
was considered fortunate to receive an education to help him on the road to
his inventions. In the late nineteenth century few African-American children
ever saw the inside of a classroom.
Woods further educated himself
by working in railroad machine shops and steel mills, and by reading about
electricity. He often had friends check out library books for him, since African-Americans
were excluded from many libraries at the time. Woods managed to scrape together
enough knowledge of electrical engineering to invent "telegraphony," a process
that was later purchased by Alexander Graham Bell's company.
Allowing operators to send and
receive messages more quickly than before, telegraphony combined features
of both the telephone and telegraph. The Bell Company's purchase of this invention
enabled Woods to become a full-time inventor.
Among his later inventions was
the multiplex telegraph. A success in the powerful railroad industry of the
late nineteenth century, the device not only helped dispatchers locate trains,
but also allowed moving trains to communicate by telegraph. This invention
was so useful that Woods found himself fighting patent suits filed by none
other than Thomas Edison. Woods eventually won, but Edison continued to pursue
the telegraph by offering Woods a lucrative partnership in one of Edison's
businesses. Woods refused, preferring to be independent.