February is Black History Month

February 18, 2011

As we celebrate Black History Month in February, here are some inventions by African-Americans of interest to rail and bus members:

* Andrew Jackson Beard, born a slave in Alabama, became a railroad employee and invented the Jenny coupler in 1897 after losing a leg using the dangerous link-and-pin coupler. The Jenny coupler, utilizing interlocking jaws, was the first automatic coupler allowing brakemen to avoid having to risk limbs while manually coupling cars. That same year, Congress enacted the first of the Federal Safety Appliance acts, requiring railroads to utilize automatic couplers.

* Elijah McCoy invented an automatic lubricator for oiling steam engines in 1872.

* Garrett Augustus Morgan invented a three-way non-electric automatic semaphore stop sign in 1923, which was the precursor to three-light electric traffic signals.

* Granville Woods, known as the “Black Edison,” was a railroad fireman and locomotive engineer who invented a telegraph system in 1887 that was used to communicate between trains and tower telegraphers to advise the distance between moving trains. He also invented overhead electric conducting lines in 1888 — now known as catenary wires; and a railroad air brake in 1902.

Meanwhile, Amtrak’s 14th Annual Black History Celebration program is scheduled for Feb. 26 at Washington Union Station in Washington, D.C.