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Andrew Jackson Beard (1849-1921), an African American inventor, was awarded patents in 1887 and 1899 for improvements to the automatic railroad car coupler. Beard had lost a leg in a car coupling accident earlier in his life. Original railroad couplers required the dangerous task of manually placing a pin in a link between two rail cars. Thanks to Beard’s improved design, the coupling could be performed automatically, and rail workers would no longer have to risk life and limb standing between rail cars to couple and uncouple them. His invention is very similar to the technology used today. Beard’s design was so effective that in 1887, the same year his automatic coupler was patented, U.S. Congress passed the Federal Safety Appliance Act, which made it illegal to operate any railroad car without automatic couplers.