Andrew Jackson Beard

Andrew Jackson Beard

Andrew Jackson Beard was born a slave in Jefferson County, Alabama. He was emancipated at the age of 15, and married at 16. Beard was a farmer near Birmingham, Alabama for some five years, but recalled visiting Montgomery in 1872 with 50 bushels of apples drawn by oxen. He said, “It took me three weeks to make the trip. I quit farming after that.” Instead he built and operated a flourmill in Hardwicks, Alabama. He began pondering the mechanics of his subsequent plow invention. Beard’s idea grew and, in 1881, he patented one of his plows and sold it, in 1884, for $4,000.

On December 15, 1887, Beard invented another plow and sold it for $5,200. With this money he went 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 requiring 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 secured two cars by merely bumping them together. Beard invented the Automatic Railroad Car Coupler, commonly referred to as the “Jenny” coupler. The patent for his invention was issued on November 23, 1897 (see Registry entry on that date). 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.