Black Inventors Spotlight: Inventions in America Railroad System Vol I

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The greatest inventors are unknown to us. Someone invented the wheel, but who?

~Isaac Asimov

To invent is to conceive of a novel and previously not existing phenomenon. An invention is the starting point for new technical development. The ingenuity behind them are ignited by innovation. Creativity sparks the innovation conceived from (wo)man’s mind. Inventions are the heart and soul of our science and engineering enterprise systems. They serve a greater purpose of meeting the needs of society. Within them lies the solution to a problem. Inventions make the world go round as the production of good and services are developed, manufactured, and implemented.

The development of the railway system revolutionized the transportation industry. The emergence of the railway relied on the inventions of metal rails and steam powered locomotives. Railroads played a critical role in industrial production, high-speed mechanized travel, and creation of economic networks connecting various enterprises with the global supply chain.

As the world evolves new challenges arise leading to continuous improvement of the current system. The railway became more modernized, economical feasible, and safe due to various new technological advancements. The advancements of the railroad system can be attributed to inventors.

The black inventor spotlight shines a light on the contributions of African American inventors in the railroad system.

I. Street Car Fender

Imagine driving down Martin Luther King boulevard, while driving you get a notification on your phone. For a split second you turn your attention from the road to your phone. Suddenly a loud thump gets your attention. Your vehicle has just collided with an object. Thankfully no one was injured during this collision and your car has just a minor scratch on its front end “bumper”. We owe a debt of gratitude to black inventor Matthew A Cherry. On January 1, 1895 M.A. Cherry received a patent for his street car fender invention.  Today the street car fender is known as the the bumper on the automobile. The purpose for the street car fender was to provide a safe guard against injury to a person struck by a moving car or vehicle. The invention comprised of a metal frame attached to the front of the vehicle via supports. The street car fender was designed to act as a shock absorber between the vehicle and the object it collided with. This invention has made a huge impact on society not only for protecting the vehicle from serious irreparable damage, but  for reducing the risk of personal injury for vehicle operators.


                      STREET CAR FENDER           


II. Railway Signal

The development of the railway  has shaped the infrastructure system. In just about every town around the world there are railway tracks that intersect with streets. The invention of the railway signal serves as a  critical life safety mechanism providing advanced warnings to vehicle operators .  The design of the signal was pivotal in communications instructions  notifying one to proceed driving or to stop giving the locomotive the right of way to proceed down the train tracks. On January 10, 1888  A. B. Blackburn was granted a patented for his railway signal invention. The intended purpose for his patent was a useful improvement for railway signal to be operated by the wheel(s) of the train.

                      RAILWAY SIGNAL



III. Electric Railway 

Every invention must adapt to modern  times to advance the application forward. Granville T. Woods was a pioneer in the field of electric railway technologies. On January 29,  1901 he was granted a patent for an overhead system for electric railways. Utilizing his electrical engineering background the invention purpose was to improve the electric traction power to the rail vehicle. His invention sought to incorporate electromagnetically controlled switches that fed the contact makers carried by the car. Improving upon the existing system inventions intent  was to provide a more  feasible system that was economically operated and easy to control.


    ELECTRIC RAILWAY                          

The street car fender , railway signal, and electric railway are all notable inventions. It’s imperative for us not to just acknowledge the impact inventions played in transforming society. We must honor African-American inventors and their contributions to society in making history for us to create a new future.

Learn, explore, and create history with us as we preserve the legacies of our ancestors.


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A.B. Blackburn, African American inventors, American railroad system, automobile bumper, black inventors, electric railway, Granville T. Woods, Matthew A. Cherry, railway signal, street car fender

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