Elijah McCoy, Lewis Latimer and Granville Woods: African-American Inventors of the 19th Century – Part 5 – The Fruit of Their Labor

While McCoy’s inventions earned millions of dollars in profit, little of that money found its way into his pockets. Because he lacked the financial backing to manufacture his lubricators himself in large numbers he sold many of his patent rights to investors. In return for this he was given only small amounts that allowed him to continue his research. McCoy was awarded at least 72 patents during his long lifetime but retained ownership of only a few of them. Personally, he had happiness married to his wife Mary Eleanor for 50 years. At the end of his life McCoy he suffered from hypertension and senile dementia. He died in an infirmary in Eloise, Michigan, on October 10, 1929.15

Woods remained an independent inventor his entire life, always remaining outside of the technological mainstream of Bell and Edison. The never ending scourge of his life became having to constantly defend his patents in court. As people of the time were always inventing it was natural that several people could come up with the same idea at roughly the same time. Because of this, the majority of Woods’ money went to fighting legal disputes. After years of being destitute and penniless he suffered a stroke on January 30, 1910 at Harlem Hospital in New York City – killing him at the young age of 53. Despite his great success as an inventor and amassing over 60 patents in total, he had little to show for it. His simple ground-level headstone in East Elmhurst, New York reads “Granville T. Woods, Esq, 1856-1910, Electrician – Inventor.”16

Latimer understood incandescent light in ways that few other men did, enough so that Thomas Edison himself asked him to work for him and help defend Edison’s patents against competitors. Later in life Latimer worked as a draftsman and an expert witness in patent litigation on electric lights. He married Mary Wilson on December 10, 1873. They had two daughters, Emma and Louise. In 1918 Latimer was asked to join the Edison Pioneers, a group of distinguished men who had participated in the early years of the electric light industry. Membership in this group represented the highest honor to individuals in the electrical field, and he was one of the original 28 charter members, all of whom had worked with Edison prior to 1885. In addition to this he volunteered his time to help the community as well as an accomplished poet, author, musician and artist. He died at the age of 80.17

Next time, How They Made a Difference and Conclusion

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