Alexander Miles was an African-American inventor who was born in Ohio in 1837. In the late 1850s, he moved to Wisconsin and made a living as a barber. In 1875, Alexander and his wife Candace moved to Duluth, Minnesota, where he invented and patented a life-saving automatic elevator door.
In 1863, Alexander Miles was living in Winona, Minnesota, where he ran a barber shop and developed and sold a line of hair products. While living in Winona, he met his future wife, a white woman named Candace Dunlap, and her children. She and her daughter moved into Alexander's home in 1870, and they were married some time before 1875 when they moved to Duluth. They had a daughter named Grace in 1876.
In Duluth, Alexander continued working as a barber for a luxury hotel. He also invested in residential and commercial real estate. He patented his elevator door invention on Oct. 11, 1887. He was the only African American serving on the Duluth Chamber of Commerce in the late 1800s, and he was the president of the Colored Republican Club of Duluth.
Miles' assets approximately equaled $500,000 at their peak. In 1899, he and his family moved to Chicago and operated a life insurance company for African Americans. Most insurance companies refused to cover African Americans because there was a belief that they lived shorter lives. He lost a lot of money in investments during the recessions and moved his family to Seattle, Washington. He died a poor widower in 1918.