Q:

Who was Philip B. Downing?

A:

Quick Answer

Philip B. Downing was the African-American inventor of the public mailbox, a metal box on four legs with an outer door and an inner safety door. He called it a street letter box and intended it to be used instead of the post office.

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Full Answer

Downing patented his mailbox on Oct. 27, 1891. Before 1891, safety was not guaranteed in public mailboxes because they were typically left half-open. With Downing's invention, the inner safety door ensured the protection of mail from theft and adverse weather conditions.

In 1890, Downing patented a railway switch controlling the power supply to trains. Residential electrical switches were later invented based on this design.

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