Black History Month: Celebrating African American Telephony Inventors and Innovators – Granville T. Woods

Feb 14, 2023, 18:10 PM by Carolyn Pilgrom

February is recognized as Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. History. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating Black history. Alvaria and our global employees are proud to celebrate Black History Month and the African American contributors to the field of telephony.

This five-part series will focus on those revolutionaries that made contributions that were/are critical to our modern communications and are often not recognized. We start with one that is overshadowed by both Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell but is no less important and could even be seen as the reason for their success, demonstrating there is also more to every story.

Granville T. Woods, born in Columbus, Ohio in 1856, did not receive a lot of schooling. In his early teens, he had many jobs including railroad engineer and a steel mill worker.  From 1876 to 1878, Woods lived in New York City. He took courses in engineering and electricity – a subject that he realized, early on, was the key to the future.

Referred by some as the "Black Edison," Woods registered nearly 60 patents in his lifetime. In fact, Woods successfully defended his patent for the induction telegraph system against a lawsuit from Thomas Edison, who claimed the patent should belong to him.

Developed in 1887, the induction telegraph allowed people to communicate by voice over telegraph wires.  A step up from only being able to use Morse code, it sped up important communications and prevented crucial issues such as train accidents. 

Essential to the telephone’s development, the patent for Woods’ induction telegraph was bought by Alexander Graham Bell – who is most commonly credited as the inventor of the telephone.

It is interesting to think that many of the things we take for granted now, in 2023, may not even exist without Mr. Woods; despite the limitations and trials he faced so long ago. Much of his story has been lost to time, but if you are interested in learning more about him, we recommend this short video from PBS:  Inventor Granville T. Woods

We look forward to part two, later this week, where we’ll take a look at a modern inventor that made it possible to see someone in the next room or even in Antarctica with just the click of a button.