Andrew Jackson Beard was born on March 29, 1849. He was a farmer, carpenter, blacksmith, a railroad worker, a businessman and finally an inventor. He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio for his work on railroad coupler design.
Beard was born in the Maafa (slavery) in Jefferson County, Alabama. He was freed at the age of 15, and married at 16. Beard started his working life as a farmer in a small city outside of Birmingham, before building and operating a flourmill. In 1881, he patented his first invention, a plow, and sold the patent rights for $4,000 in 1884. In 1887, Andrew Beard patented a second plaw and sold it for $5,200. Beard invested the money into the real estate business and made about $30,000.
In 1889, Beard invented a rotary steam engine, patented on July 5,1892. He claimed that his steam engine was cheaper to build and operate than steam engines and it would not explode. While Beard worked on his rotary steam engine, he experimented with perhaps his finest invention, an automatic car coupler idea.
In the early days of American railroading, coupling was done manually. Car coupling, an extremely dangerous undertaking required a railroad worker to brace himself between cars and drop a metal pin into place at the exact moment the cars came together. Few railroad men kept all their fingers, many lost arms and hands. And, many were caught between cars and crushed to death during the hazardous split-second operation. Beard himself lost a leg as a result of a car coupling accident. His idea safely hooked railroad cars to each other.
Beard invented the Automatic Railroad Car Coupler, commonly referred to as the “Jenny” coupler, (not to be mistaken for the Janney coupler). The patent for his invention was issued on November 23, 1897. Andrew Beard’s invention, which was improved in 1899, is the forerunner of today’s automatic coupler.
Unfortunately, Beard’s life, after 1897, is a virtual mystery. He died in 1921 yet no record has been found of where it happened. The railroad industry owes a debt to his inventive genius.