Born as a slave in 1849 on a plantation in Woodland, Alabama, Andrew Beard was a farmer, carpenter, blacksmith, railroad worker, businessman and finally an inventor. When he was a farmer near Birmingham, he thought up the idea of inventing a plow. In 1881, he patented one of his plows, which he sold for $4,000 three years later. In 1887, he invented another plow, sold it and used the proceeds to finance a profitable real estate business. In 1892, he patented his rotary engine.
While working in the railroad yards, Beard suffered a serious accident when he was crushed between two cars while linking them. He lost a leg in the process. Car coupling was an extremely dangerous procedure, involving split-second timing to drop a metal pin into place at the precise moment the cars pulled in together. Many railroad men lost their lives and limbs during this operation. This fueled Beard's resolve and imagination to create a device that linked cars automatically.
On November 23, 1897 he obtained a patent for his railroad car coupler—the "Jenny Coupler." In that same year, he sold his patent rights to a New York firm for $50,000, which was a substantial sum at that time. The device, improved in 1899, was the precursor of today's linking mechanism. Although it is known that Beard died in 1921, there is no knowledge of his life in the intervening twenty-four years.
Black Inventors of America, McKinley Burt, Jr.. Halcyon House, 1969.
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