Granville T. Woods, the 'Black Edison,' helped shape NYC transit system

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Granville T. Woods, called the Black Edison, is regarded as one of the most prolific inventors of his time.

Born in 1856, his first successful paten led to some elements of the signal system currently on display at the New York Transit Museum.

"His first patent was for technology related to the telegraph, and he actually sold it to Alexander Graham Bell," New York Transit Museum Educator Ben Bryden said.

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For the first time ever, a train's location could be seen in real time.

It was so good that Thomas Edison tried to sue Woods and steal the concept -- but Edison lost in court.

"His reaction was to try and hire Granville Woods," Bryden said. "But Woods wanted to maintain his independence and turned him down."

Woods was a dynamic mechanical and electrical engineer who acquired more than 60 patents for everything from an egg incubator to what was the precursor to a crucial part of the subway system today -- the third rail.

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First, rewind to 1888, when what was dubbed the Great Blizzard walloped the Tri-State area.

"Transportation and communication were shut down for days," Bryden said.

Then-Mayor Hugh Grant ordered all lines for trollies had to be moved underground, and Woods found a way -- the electric railway conduit system.

"You could safely and compactly put current collection along side the rails in a small compact tunnel," Bryden said.

As notable as that was, Bryden says Woods wasn't taken seriously because of the racial climate at the time and often had trouble selling his own ideas to railroads.

"He often had to resort to selling his ideas to more established inventors, which is quite often why he doesn't get the credit he was due," Bryden said.

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