Who was Joseph Winters (1816-1916) and what did he invent?

Who was Joseph Winters (1816-1916) and what did he invent?

People enjoy the luxuries and simplified processes today from genius minds that surpassed prevalent norms to create new ideas. These out of the box thinkers are celebrated worldwide for their scientific discoveries and inventions. You have probably heard a lot about Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and most recent Steve Jobs, but are you familiar with Joseph Winters? The African American abolitionist and inventor advanced the fire escape ladder that would later save countless lives. What is his story?

Joseph Winters
Inventor, writer and abolitionist Joseph Winters. Photo: @butterscotch_33
Source: UGC

The world is full of inventions from people who dared think otherwise and develop ingenious ideas that solve the most challenging mysteries in life. Winters is one of the most unique, considering his circumstances during his era. How did he develop his invention idea and what events in his life led to his exciting discovery journey?

The life of Joseph Winters

When was Joseph Winters born? Various sources quote Joseph Winters birth date differently, between 1816 and 1830. During his time, African Americans were unrecognized in official records, so his exact birth date is unknown.

Joseph’s father was a brickmaker that worked for a gun factory called Harpers Ferry that the federal government-owned. Not much is known about his mother, only that she was a Shawnee Indian tribe member.

According to the family's history, Joseph Winters' father descended from Powhatan chief Opechancanough. His grandmother raised him in Waterford, Virginia where she was renowned as the "Indian Doctor woman.

Joseph, at 14 years old, relocated to Chambersburg where he was active in the underground railroad. Before this, he worked as a farmer. It is not clear whether he moved with his family or by himself. Joseph was active in a city known for Quaker abolitionist activity.

In his now-lost autobiography, Joseph Winters stated that he worked with Frederick Douglass before the John Brown Raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859. However, Joseph mentions another individual in his autobiography.


Interestingly, Joseph Winters wrote a song titled, Ten Days After the Battle of Gettysburg. The song’s title is also the title of his now lost autobiography. On top of this, Joseph wrote the campaign song for presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan that lost to William McKinley.

What did joseph winters invent?

Joseph Winters
Joseph Winters fire escape ladder patented invention of May 7, 1878. Photo: @Styled and Staged Spaces
Source: UGC

In the late 19th century, buildings were getting taller and taller. During this time, fire crews carried standard ladders on their horse-drawn fire engines that weren't long enough and couldn't turn corners.

Winters noticed a problem in how the firemen operated. He saw that they had to take the ladder off their wagons to climb to windows and rescue people trapped in the houses with fire.

Joseph, after deep reasoning, came up with a brilliant idea. What if the firemen would have ladders they could raise and be already mounted to the wagon? And that is how Joseph Winters came up with the fire escape ladder in 1878 when American cities were overgrowing. They were growing up instead of growing out.

Winters made the ladder's design for the city of Chambersburg and received a patent for it. Later, he patented improvement for the ladder's design that could be attached to buildings. Although Joseph was given great praises for his inventions, he received little money.

Joseph Winters received the following patents for the invention of the fire escape ladder and improvements:

  • U.S. Patent number 203, 517 for a wagon-mounted fire escape ladder on May 7, 1878.
  • U.S. Patent number 214, 224 for an “improvement” on the wagon-mounted fire escape ladder on April 8, 1879.
  • U.S. Patent number 258, 186 for a fire escape ladder that could be affixed to buildings on May 16, 1882.

Although Winters is credited for inventing the wagon-mounted fire escape ladder, his version was patented after George Huttman, and George Kornelio introduced the idea in 1849. Theirs was a wooden ladder that Winters replaced with a metal frame and parallel steps.

Since he received little money for his invention, he engaged in unsuccessful oil prospecting in the Chambersburg region. He also got involved in politics that led him to write a campaign song for democrat presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan.

Modern alterations in the fires escape ladder

Today, the fire escape ladder has undergone massive transformations. There are three primary categories:

  • Vehicle-mounted.
  • Permanent ladders.
  • Quick drop deploy ladders.

Vehicle-mounted ladders are often retractable and resemble cherry-pickers. They also possess hydraulic features controlled by the automobile operator. Fire escape stairs are found on high rise buildings and are either indoors or outdoors.

The quick drop deploy ladders are attached to a multistorey apartment so that one can escape out the window in case of a fire hazard.

Commemoration of Joseph Winters

The inventor was commemorated by the Chambersburg, Pennsylvania local fire department. They placed a historical marker at the Junior Hose and Truck Company #2. It reads:

Joseph Winters (c., 1816-1916). African American Inventor who secured a U.S. patent for the first fire escape ladder and hose conductor in 1878. In 1879 Winters was issued a second U.S. patent for improvements to the original invention. Winters was active in the Underground Railroad. He resided in Chambersburg.

Where did Joseph Winters die?

Joseph Winters, the African American inventor died in 1916 in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. His death's exact cause is unknown, but he was around 100 years old when he passed. He likely died from old age or age-related illnesses. Joseph was buried in Mount Lebanon Cemetery in Chambersburg.

Joseph Winters was a remarkable man who significantly contributed to society by inventing and advancing the fire escape ladder. He made a meaningful impact during a time when people overtly oppressed African Americans.

Yen.com.gh featured an exciting story of a man that built a mirror that shows time and weather. He shared the interesting invention on Twitter and received massive applause from people that found the invention fascinating.

However, he reiterated that the invention was not complete and asked for assistance from anyone with in-depth HTML knowledge to help him out. He disclosed the smart mirror in his room on January 4.

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Source: YEN.com.gh

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