Date(s) - 08/10/2020 - 08/15/2020
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In a response to broadening our appreciation and history of all Americans, the Black Employee Strategic Team (BEST) ERG will offer a “Did You Know” series to highlight significant, yet little known, historical contributions of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and other marginalized groups. We hope you look forward to learning new historical facts each month!
BEST Presents Did You Know: Alexander Miles
Born in 1838, Alexander Miles was an African American inventor and successful businessperson of Duluth, Minnesota. Through his earnings as a barber, Miles and his family lived comfortably. He operated a barbershop in an upscale Duluth hotel, purchased a piece of real estate, and constructed a three-story brownstone. Miles became the first African American of the Duluth Chamber of Commerce.
During his time as a barber, Miles began to show a talent for inventions by developing and selling hair products. After a near fatal accident involving his young daughter falling down an elevator shaft, Miles began to think of ways to improve the function of the elevator door. In 1887, Miles patented his invention for a mechanism that automatically opened and closed elevator shaft doors. Although the first automatic door system was invented by John W. Meaker in 1874, many elevators at the time still required both the shaft and elevator doors to be manually opened and closed before use. If a person forgot to close both doors before using the elevator, there was a risk of someone falling down the open shaft. These falls were often fatal.
Miles’ electric-powered elevator doors are a standard feature in elevators around the world today. For his significant contribution, Miles was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007.
*For additional articles in this series, please visit @LaRC.