Andrew Jackson Beard
“Andrew Jackson Beard was born a slave on a plantation near Mt. Pinson in Jefferson County, Alabama about 1849. On this farm, he spent his early life and youth working for his master, from whom his family took the name “Beard.” Milton Beard and Creasey Tatum, his parents, were also slaves on the Beard’s plantation. The advantage of freedom came to him at the age of 14, January 1, 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, which freed four million slaves. Although set free, Beard remained on his master’s farm until he was about 18 years of age. At that time he left the farm and launched upon a career in which he was to receive experience as a farmer, carpenter, blacksmith, handyman, businessman, railroad employee, and an inventor.”1
He never had the opportunity to go to school or acquire any formal education. “Although illiterate, unlettered, and uneducated he possessed inventive genius, intelligence, a mechanical mind, and was a clever gadgeteer, possessed with boundless imagination, energy and industry, and applied steady effort to his work. Those who saw Beard grow into manhood under so many obstacles would scarcely have suspected that he would become an inventor.”2
Worked as a sharecropper
Andy, as he was affectionately called, worked as a sharecropper for several years and eventually acquired an 80-acre farm of his own near Center Point, Alabama where he married Edie Beard. The couple settled on his farm and became the parents of three sons, John, Jack, and Andrew, Jr. The last son died shortly after finishing school.3
“In addition to his own family, he had great admiration and gave paternal care to one of the tenant families on his plantation . . . the children of Hattie Horton, they also bore his name . . . Arthur, Luther, William, and Mamie. Feeling keenly the need for religion and education he had an urge to make them available to his people. Therefore, his ability as a carpenter was utilized to build a church-house for the people on his plantation. This building served also as the local school-house. Andy had great love for Jefferson County, and lived practically all his life in several of its communities, either in Mount Pinson, Center Point, Zion City, East Lake, or Woodlawn.”4
Andy’s career as a farmer came to an end in 1872, after a three-week trip to Montgomery, Alabama to sell 50 bushels of apples. After the trip, he is reported to have said, “It took me three weeks to make the trip. I quit farming after that.” Instead, he built and operated a flour mill in Hardwicks, Alabama.”5 He started studying the mechanics of plows, and he patented one of his plow inventions in 1884, which he sold for $4,000. “On December 15, 1887, Beard invented another plow and sold it for $5,200.”
Employed by the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad
Beard was later employed by the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad (Georgia Pacific), which became the Southern Railway System. Andy became interested in the mechanics of the locomotives and train cars. “Beard’s native inventive genius, struggles, and hard work, together with the assistance of Mr. Melville Drennen, twice mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, brought him thrilling results when on July 5, 1892, he was granted patent number 478,271, on a rotary engine, by the United States Patent Office.”6
In the railroad yard, Beard observed the switchmen as they attempted to drop a coupling pin in a slot to join the cars together. Too often, when the cars were joined, the switchman’s right arm was cut off. “During this time many railroad switchmen carried the visible but mute sign of an amputated arm. This tragedy disturbed and haunted Beard and motivated him to action.”7 Beard had even lost a leg as a result of a car coupling accident.8
New coupling device revolutionized the industry
On November 23, 1897, Beard received patent number 594,059, on an automatic car coupling device. In 1897, a New York firm paid Beard $50,000 for his invention. This invention saved the lives of many men and was one of the greatest humanitarian deeds of his entire career. 9
“A few senior citizens still remember Andy walking the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, displaying a wooden model of his invention.” Andy demonstrated and exhibited his invention at a convention of the Master Car Builders Association in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and he made such an impression that he was elected an honorary member of the Master Car Builders Association. This great distinction he cherished the rest of his life.
First Millionaire of Color in Jefferson County, Alabama
More patents obtained by Beard included improvement on his automatic car coupling under the patents numbered and issued as follows: Number 675,346, May 28, 1901: Number 761,056, May 31, 1904; Number 807,430, December 19, 1905.10
“Beard’s several patents reputedly brought more than a million dollars. He was, therefore, dubbed the first millionaire of color in Jefferson County, Alabama. He acquired great real estate holdings, and according to a relative, was able to get money in large amounts from banks. Beard’s name still appears in the abstracts records of a lot of real estate in Jefferson County.”11
His success in invention induced him to go into business. He organized the Beard’s Jitney (Taxi) Line, on 18th Street, North between Second and Third Avenues, which for a number of years was a successful venture.12
He continued to work upon his inventions as long as he was physically able. “The memory of one of the citizens of long residence in Birmingham, recalls Mr. Beard in his heyday as standing about 5’5″, weighing approximately 175 pounds, of reddish complexion, and a good grade of hair, well dressed, usually including vest and coat, wearing eyeglasses, accentuated with full mustache, and riding in a shiny buggy with a well-gaited horse.”13
Lost his money
The “permanent handicap of illiteracy, in addition to injudicious and unwise management practically ruined his career.14 After losing his assets, he suffered an impairment in his health when he was suddenly struck with paralysis. He went to live in Woodlawn with Miss Mamie Beard, his foster-daughter. Due to his continued failing health and incapacity, he applied for admission to the Jefferson County Alms House, which was located at that time in the vicinity of 11th Avenue and 54th Street, North.15
Buried in an unmarked grave in Woodlawn Cemetery
Finally, the career of an ex-slave, a farmer, a carpenter, a blacksmith, a handyman, a businessman, a railroad employee, an inventor, and a benefactor came to an end. He died May 10, 1921, of arteriosclerosis in the Alms House. His funeral took place at the Jackson Street Baptist Church and his body was interred in an unmarked grave in the Woodlawn Cemetery, in Birmingham, Alabama.16
1Brown, Charles Allen, Andrew Jackson Beard (1849-1921), an inventor, Privately published.
2Brown, Charles Allen, Andrew Jackson Beard (1849-1921), an inventor, Privately published.
3Brown, Charles Allen, Andrew Jackson Beard (1849-1921), an inventor, Privately published.
4Brown, Charles Allen, Andrew Jackson Beard (1849-1921), an inventor, Privately published.
6Brown, Charles Allen, Andrew Jackson Beard (1849-1921), an inventor, Privately published.
7Brown, Charles Allen, Andrew Jackson Beard (1849-1921), an inventor, Privately published.
9Brown, Charles Allen, Andrew Jackson Beard (1849-1921), an inventor, Privately published.
10Brown, Charles Allen, Andrew Jackson Beard (1849-1921), an inventor, Privately published.
11Brown, Charles Allen, Andrew Jackson Beard (1849-1921), an inventor, Privately published.
12Brown, Charles Allen, Andrew Jackson Beard (1849-1921), an inventor, Privately published.
13Brown, Charles Allen, Andrew Jackson Beard (1849-1921), an inventor, Privately published.
14Brown, Charles Allen, Andrew Jackson Beard (1849-1921), an inventor, Privately published.
15Brown, Charles Allen, Andrew Jackson Beard (1849-1921), an inventor, Privately published.
16Brown, Charles Allen, Andrew Jackson Beard (1849-1921), an inventor, Privately published.
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VINEGAR OF THE FOUR THIEVES: Recipes & curious tips from the past