It’s hard to imagine life without our pocket computers. How many times have we been in conversations and someone pulls out their phone to “Ask Siri” or “Ask Google” to search for an answer to a question? Or even in our homes, we can get a quick weather update by asking Alexa.  Heck, these electronic assistants are happy to tell us anything we may want to hear.

If you enjoy being able to use your portable phone for things other than making a phone call, thank Granville T. Woods.

Woods (1856-1910) was born in Columbus, Ohio to free African Americans. He had limited formal education, but was fascinated by engineering.  He worked as a railroad engineer, served as an engineer on a British ship, and worked in a steel mill.  While living in New York City, he took classes in engineering and electricity. He was convinced these two fields were the key to the future.

Woods eventually founded his own company, manufacturing and selling electrical apparatus.  In 1889, he filed his first patent for an improved steam boiler furnace.  His second invention was an improved telephone transmitter and was purchased by Alexander Graham Bell.  He also dabbled in other medias which lead to the invention of the “troller,” a grooved metal wheel that allowed trolleys to collect electric power from overhead wires.  (Side note: Did you know Richmond had the first Trolly system?) In fact, he received nearly 60 patents in his lifetime, many of which were assigned to the major manufacturers of electrical equipment that we enjoy today.

How does any of this relate to our pocket computers?  Well, Woods most important invention was the “Multiplex Telegraph,” also known as the “Induction Telegraph” (or block system).  The device allowed communication by voice over telegraph wires, ultimately helping to speed up important communications and preventing crucial errors such as train accidents.  Thomas Edison filed suit against Woods over the multiplex telegraph, which was defeated in a court of law.  Afterwards, Edison approached Mr. Woods to form a partnership; Woods said, “no thank you.”*

Thank you, Mr. Woods.


*The author could not confirm or deny this is exactly how Woods responded to Edison but suffice to say, he wasn’t interested in partnering with anyone who tried to sue him.

Enjoy Communication In The Palm Of Your Hand? Thank Granville T. Woods

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