Quiet Brilliance

Quiet Brilliance

Written on 08/29/2023

Little has been written about Richard Spikes in terms of his childhood, education and personal life. What is known is that he was an incredible inventor and the proof of this is in the incredibly diverse number of creations that have had a major impact on the lives of everyday citizens.

Over the course of his lifetime, Spikes developed the following inventions or innovations:

·       railroad semaphore (1906)

·       automatic car washer (1913)

·       automobile directional signals (1913)

·       beer keg tap (1910)

·       self-locking rack for billiard cues (1910)

·       continuous contact trolley pole (1919)

·       combination milk bottle opener and cover (1926)

·       method and apparatus for obtaining average samples and temperature of tank liquids (1931)

·       automatic gear shift (1932)

·       transmission and shifting thereof (1933)

·       automatic shoe shine chair (1939)

·       multiple barrel machine gun (1940)

·       horizontally swinging barber chair (1950)

·       automatic safety brake (1962)

Spikes inventions were welcome to major companies. His beer keg tap was purchased by Milwaukee Brewing Company and the automobile directional signals which were first introduced in the Pierce Arrow soon became standard in all automobiles. For his innovative designs of transmission and gear-shifting devices, Spikes received over $100,000.00 – an enormous sum for a Black man in the 1930s.

By the time he was creating the automatic safety brake in 1962, Spikes was losing his vision. In order to complete the device, he first created a drafting machine for blind designers – by the time his braking device was completed, he was deemed legally blind. The device would soon be found in almost every school bus in the nation.


"Spikes patented a beer-tapper (U.S. Patent number 850,070). Connected to a keg, the tap used tubing to ease the release of beer from the barrel, while also improving freshness over time. This technology is still in use today."

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