Alexander Miles was an African-American inventor who was awarded a patent in 1887 for an automatically opening and closing elevator door design. Miles was not the original inventor of this device, as John W. Meaker received a patent for an automatic door opener in 1874, 13 years before Miles.
It was while riding in an elevator with his young daughter that Miles realized the risk of an elevator door being carelessly left ajar. Standard opening and closing procedures up until this time required manual operation. By designing a system of belts, levers and rollers, Miles submitted and was awarded a patent.
Before creating his elevator patent, Miles experiment with hair care products. His earlier career was as a barber in the four-story St. Louis Hotel in Duluth, Minnesota. Miles became the first black member of the Duluth Chamber of Commerce. His wife worked as a dress maker.
After his patent, Miles moved his family to Chicago where he became successful in the insurance industry. At this time, his goal was to eliminate discrimination against blacks, and he eventually became quite wealthy.
While his actual death date is unknown, it is believed he died sometime around 1905. Alexander Miles was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007. The influence of his elevator door patent is seen today in modern elevator door designs.