Andrew Beard’s $50,000 Accident
Unlike the two previous inventors, Andrew Jackson Beard was not born in the North, nor was he formally trained. He was born in Alabama in 1849 and lived as a slave until he was released at age 15, before the end of the American Civil War. After becoming a free man, Beard earned his living as a farmer, flour mill owner, and real estate investor. He secured the capital to invest in real estate from two plows he patented, selling the rights for nearly $10,000 combined, which would be a lot more in today’s currency.
Meanwhile, he received yet another patent on July 5, 1892, for a rotary steam engine, which according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, Beard claimed “was both safer and more affordable than other versions of the rotary steam engine available on the market, but it only saw limited use and never gained popularity.” Even so, his reputation spread and made way for him to work on numerous trades, including blacksmithing and carpentry.
Then the unthinkable happened. While doing the dangerous job of manually connecting railroad cars, Beard was injured and lost one of his legs. That tragic experience led to his greatest invention: the Jenny coupler, which automatically linked train cars. He sold the rights to his design for $50,000 (over a million dollars in today’s currency), and then he secured to more patents for further improvements to railroad couplings. Decades after his death, his contributions to railroad safety and farming earned his a spot in the National Inventors Hall of Fame.