African American Transit Innovators


Katherine Johnson sits at her desk with a globe, or “Celestial Training Device.” Credits: NASA

We’re continuing our celebration of Black History Month by highlighting a few innovators who helped pave the way for safer and more efficient transit.

Granville T. Woods

There’s a lot that happens behind the scenes to make a DART train run smoothly. For example, rail operators constantly communicate with controllers who help them know when to stop, slow down or proceed.

We can thank Granville T. Woods for that. In 1887, he patented the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph, which allowed engineers and dispatchers to communicate with moving trains. This invention made train travel safer by reducing collisions.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation:

Katherine Johnson

This innovator understood that with transit, the sky’s the limit. An expert mathematician, Katherine Johnson began working for NASA in 1953. As a NASA computer, she calculated the trajectory for the first American in space.

Her achievements didn’t not stop there. In 1962, Johnson performed the critical calculations for Friendship 7, the mission where astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth.

Source: NASA

Garrett A. Morgan

A few things are worse than stop-and-go traffic. This innovator understood that sometimes you need something between stopping and going.

In 1923, Garrett A. Morgan received a patent for his three-position traffic signal, which included a stop command for all directions. Morgan’s signal allowed for safer pedestrian travel as well as safer travel through intersections.

Source: Federal Highway Administration

Elijah McCoy

After difficulties finding a job as an engineer, Elijah McCoy took an oilman job at Michigan Central Railroad. There he would walk the length of trains, oiling their moving parts.

After realizing the task could occur more efficiently, McCoy developed a cup that would add oil to the trains automatically. His lubricating cup helped trains extend their travel time without stopping for oil.

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

Continue to join us this Black History Month as we celebrate the history and cultural significance of African Americans and spotlight their value in our community.


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