We honor and celebrate the impact that African-American innovators have had on the progress of the transportation industry—inventions that solved challenges, actions that broke through barriers, ideas that demonstrated there are better ways to do things. During the month of February, we’re looking back on history and highlighting individuals who have moved the industry forward in meaningful ways.
Garrett Morgan invented the first traffic signal in 1922 in Cleveland, Ohio. The three-position signals were used throughout North America until the invention of the automatic red-yellow-green light signals.
Lois Cooper became the first woman to work for Caltrans. She worked on several major freeway projects and headed the Public Information department and the Civil Rights department in the 1970s. While working for Caltrans, Cooper visited over 100 classrooms to encourage young people to get excited about engineering and see themselves in engineering careers.
Meredith Gourdine was a forward-thinker in energy conversion who invented the catalytic converted in 1967. His exhaust purification system helps reduce harmful emissions and pollution from vehicles.
Granville T. Jones invented the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph, which made it possible to send messages from moving trains to railway stations, increasing safety by allowing dispatchers to know where trains were at any given time.
Elijah McCoy (“the real McCoy”) invented an automatic lubricator for oiling steam engines on locomotives and ships, an invention that greatly benefited the railroad industry by enabling trains to run more efficiently.
By refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger, Rosa Parks started a chain of events leading to the desegregation of buses in Montgomery, Alabama.
Andrew Jackson Beard invented the “Jenny Coupler,” a device that automatically joined railroad cars instead of the unsafe instances of having a worker manually do it.
The “Safe Bus Company” was chartered in 1926 in Winston-Salem, NC to better serve African-American citizens there. Eventually employing 80 drivers and moving 8,000 passengers per day, it was the largest African-American owned and operated transportation business in the world before it was acquired by the Winston-Salem Transit Authority.
In 1922, Bessie Coleman became the first black female pilot. Because flying schools in the United States denied her entry, she taught herself French and moved to France, earning her license from France’s well-known Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation in just seven months.
Shelly Nathan Bailey helped develop a new type of concrete for building dams. He was co-founder of the Northern California Council of Black Professional Engineers, President of Sacramento ASCE, and named 1986 ASCE Outstanding Engineer of the Year.
We thank these pioneers, and the future innovators who will change our transportation systems for the better in the years to come!