Before his invention, railroad operators had to brace themselves between rail cars and insert a metal pin where the two cars met. The practice was incredibly dangerous and resulted in many men being crushed to death or losing limbs in the process, including Beard, who lost his leg in a car coupling accident. Beard's idea secured the cars by allowing them to bump into each other.
Born a slave in Jefferson County, Alabama, Beard was freed at age 15. Working as a farmer, he developed an interest in mechanics, which led him to build and later patent a design for a double plow. Among Beard's many other patents was one for a steam-powered rotary engine.
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