Andrew Jackson Beard


Andrew Jackson Beard invented the Automatic Railroad Car Coupler, commonly referred to as the “Jenny” Coupler. Railroad car coupling is an automatic process for hooking railroad cars together.

Andrew Beard was born a slave in Jefferson County, Alabama in 1849. 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 flourished and in 1881, he patented one of his plows and sold it, in 1884, for $4,000. On December 15, 1887, he invented another plow and sold it for £5,200. With these profits, he went into the real estate business and accumulated a profit of 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 conventional steam engines and it would not explode. While Beard worked on his rotary steam engine, he experimented with the automatic car coupler idea. In the early days of American railroading, coupling was done manually.

While working in the railroad yards, Beard developed an idea for a device, which would automatically hook railroad cars together. Car coupling, an extremely dangerous procedure, 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 “Jenny” coupler secured two cars by merely bumping them together. The patent for his invention was issued on November 23, 1897. Andrew Beard’s invention, which was improved in 1899, is a forerunner of today’s automatic coupler.

Unfortunately, Beard’s life after 1897 is a virtual mystery; no record has been found of where he die. The railroad industry owes a debt to his inventive genius.