Railroad employees and farmers owe a big thanks to Andrew Jackson Beard. Beard was an African-American inventor and Renaissance man. Beard was born in Alabama in 1849 and spent the first 15 years of his life as a slave on a small farm. A year after he was emancipated, he married and became a farmer in a small city outside of Birmingham. After an unbearable trip to Montgomery to sell bushels of apples, Beard decided to quit the farming business and get a real job. As a result of his extensive farming experience, he was able to develop and champion his first invention, a plow. Three years later, he patented a second plow. These two inventions earned him almost $10,000 and enabled him to enter the lucrative real estate business.
But, his most important invention wasn't patented until 1897. It was the automatic railroad car coupler (aka the Jenny Coupler). This invention allowed two railroad cars to lock automatically by bumping into each other. Prior to this invention, a railroad employee would have to drop a bin between the two connectors of the railroad cars. Often times they could not get out in time and many lost their limbs and even their lives.
Beard's invention eliminated this risk. Beard was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio for his life-saving invention.