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Black History Month: Celebrating Black Figures Driving Change in the Transportation Industry

CRST is celebrating Black History Month and the contributions of African Americans in the United States. Join us as we honor the black figures who are driving change in the transportation industry.
Black History Month February 2024

February is Black History Month — a month that focuses attention on the contributions of African Americans in the United States. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially chosen February as Black History Month. At CRST, we’d like to honor many African Americans who have touched our lives, especially our truck driving life.

Andrew Jackson Beard was an inventor who was instrumental in reducing severe injuries to railroad workers. He invented the first automatic railroad car coupler—a forerunner of automatic couplers used today. His invention was so impactful in 1887 that it became illegal to operate railroad carts without it.

Frederick McKinley Jones invented the first successful system for mobile refrigeration—a portable air-cooling unit for trucks, which significantly improved the long-haul transportation of perishable goods. Today, long-haul refrigerated transit wouldn’t be possible without his contribution. His invention earned him the National Medal of Technology and an induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. 

Archie Alexander was an American architect and engineer and an early African American graduate of the University of Iowa. He was the first to graduate from the University of Iowa’s College of Engineering and was a governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Alexander founded Alexander & Repass, an engineering firm responsible for constructing the Whitehurst Freeway, the Tidal Basin Bridge, and the extension of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. His bridges and roads are still used today. 

Elijah J. McCoy was a Canadian American engineer of African American descent who invented lubrication systems for steam engines. In his lifetime, McCoy held over 57 patents. In 1920, McCoy sold the rights to some of his patents to raise money to open the Elijah McCoy manufacturing company. The term “The Real McCoy” can be attributed to this masterful engineer. 

Granville T. Woods, the chief engineer on the Ironsides, a British steamship, went on to open his machine shop, which was known as Woods Electrical Company. Woods developed the first electric railway powered with electric lines from above the train, which is why he was called “Black Edison.”  

Richard Spikes invented many products over 40 years, most of which were in the transportation industry. In 1932, he received a patent for improving the gear shift transmission system. This invention kept the gears in constant mesh for various speeds, improving automatic transmission. In 1962, he received the patent for the automated safety brake system. This invention would be necessary in automotive history as it supplied reserve braking action in case of damage to the standard braking means. Spikes’ invention is still used in some buses today as a fail-safe means of stopping vehicles. 

Meredith Gourdine ran away at 11 to live on his own. He taught himself mechanical and electrical engineering. One of Gourdine’s best-known inventions is the Electrogasdynamic Precipitator with Catalytic Reaction (also known as the catalytic converter), which is used to clean exhaust fumes of gases and particles harmful to the environment.

Lois Cooper made history in 1953 by becoming the first female African American transportation engineer to be hired in the Engineering Department at the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). She went on to figure out the alignment of freeways by determining the bearings and coordinates to create a draft for construction managers. She did this without calculators or computers. Undoubtedly, African Americans have significantly impacted transportation and truck driving life. We’re grateful for those contributions that have helped us do what we do. Want to learn more about trucking through the ages? Check out our blog “Trucking Through The Ages: A Brief History of the Truck Driving Industry and its Trailblazers.”

Thank you to the many African Americans who have touched our lives. We honor you through Black History Month, and all year round.