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.

ALSO READ: Inside 'The Historymakers,' the nation's largest African American video oral history archive
EMBED More News Videos

Sandra Bookman reports on the archive helping future generations learn about the many accomplishments of African-Americans.


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.

ALSO READ | Dr. Patricia Bath revolutionized cataract surgery with her device and technique
EMBED More News Videos

Dr. Patricia Bath was an ophthalmologist and scientist who helped pave the way for future generations of African American women in the field.


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.

Righting a wrong, one story at a time.

For more Black History Month stories, visit abc7ny.com/BlackHistory.

MORE ABC 7 UNITE



See more stories at abc7NY.com/unite
SEND STORY IDEAS TO EYEWITNESS NEWS


Watch Here & Now
Here & Now episode archive

RESOURCES


We are also publishing resources in a range of areas, which will grow and can be found below:

Ways to Help
Black Lives Matter
Black Voters Matter Fund
NAACP
National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform
Voices of Community Activists & Leaders (VOCAL-NY)
Black LGBTQIA + Migrants Project

Teaching the Next Generation
Black Lives Matter at School
Creating Space To Talk About Racism At Your School
Teaching for Black Lives - Rethinking Schools

Black-Owned Bookstores in New York and New Jersey
Cafe con Libros (Brooklyn)
Grandma's Place (Harlem)
Sister's Uptown (Manhattan)
Source of Knowledge (Newark)
The Lit. Bar (Bronx)
The Little Boho Bookshop (Bayonne)

Books
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children In A Racially Unjust America by Jennifer Harvey
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

Podcasts
1619
Black Wall Street 1921
Jemele Hill is Unbothered
Still Processing:

Movies
American Son: Available on Netflix
If Beale Street Could Talk: Available on Hulu
Just Mercy: Available on Amazon Prime
Selma: Available on Amazon Prime
The Hate U Give: Available on Amazon Prime
When They See Us: Available on Netflix

Documentaries
13th: Available on Netflix
America Inside Out with Katie Couric: Available on National Geographic
Becoming: Available on Netflix
I am Not Your Negro: Available on YouTube
Copyright © 2021 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.