Richard Spikes

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Richard Spikes
Born (1878-10-02)October 2, 1878
Dallas, Texas
Died (1963-01-22)January 22, 1963
Los Angeles, California
Occupation barber, schoolteacher, musician, businessman, inventor
Spouse(s) Lula Belle Charlton
Children 1
Parent(s) Monroe Spikes, Sr., Medora Kirby Spikes

Richard Bowie Spikes (October 2, 1878 - January 22, 1963) was an African-American inventor. The holder of a number of United States patents, his inventions (or mechanical improvements on existing inventions) include the beer tap, automobile directional signals, the automatic gear shift device based on automatic transmission for automobiles and other motor vehicles and a safety braking system for trucks and buses.


Although he would claim that on a number of occasions that he was born in Indian Territory (now the state of Oklahoma)[1] it would appear that Richard Bowie Spikes was born in San Francisco, California in 1878, the fifth of nine children of Monroe Spikes, a barber, and his wife Medora (Kirby) Spikes.[2] Two of his younger brothers, John Curry Spikes (1881-1955) and Reb Spikes (1888-1982), were musicians and songwriters (Someday Sweetheart, a jazz standard [1919] was their biggest hit).[3] Reb Spikes was a noted jazz saxophonist who worked with Jelly Roll Morton, Kid Ory and Sid Le Protti; among the well known jazzmen he gave a start to were Lionel Hampton and Les Hite.[4]

Although a capable musician—piano and violin—Richard Spikes learned to cut hair in his father's barber shop, and then became a public school teacher in Beaumont, Texas. On October 8, 1900,[5] he married Lula Belle Charlton (1880-1970), daughter of Charles Napoleon Charlton, an ex-slave who co-founded the first public schools for African Americans in the city of Beaumont.[6] Richard and Lula would have one son, Richard Don Quixote Spikes (1902-1989).[7]

Soon after his marriage, the elder Spikes moved west to Albuquerque, New Mexico and later Bisbee, Arizona[8] where he operated a barber shop and later a saloon.[9] He became dissatisfied with how draft beer was dispensed from a keg; and developed variations on the pressure-dispense beer tap. The patent was purchased by the Milwaukee Brewing Company and variations of the invention are still in use.[10]

Moving to San Francisco, California, Richard Spikes eventually received a patent pertaining to automobile directional signals, which he installed on a Pierce-Arrow car in 1913. However, contrary to many sources, Spikes was not the original inventor of this pivotal device, as Percy Douglas-Hamilton was awarded U.S. Patent 912,831 in 1906 for his creation of the first directional signals, six years before Spikes developed his version of the device.[11] While he was working on his brake testing machine a few years later, the Oakland, California Police Department was interested enough to give it a tryout.[12]

Spikes continued working as a barber, owning and operating shops in San Francisco, Fresno, California and Stockton, California until his eyesight began to fade due to the effects of glaucoma which affected other members of his family, including his brother John,[13] who received a patent for a "writing aid for the blind"—a paper holder, essentially a pad with a clip affixed to it in order to secure sheets of writing paper.[14] Richard Spikes also kept working; in December 1932, Spikes received a patent for an automatic gear shift device based on automatic transmission for automobiles and other motor vehicles invented in 1904 by the Sturtevant brothers of Boston, Massachusetts.


Richard Spikes patented or developed the following inventions:


  1. ^ "United States World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 21 February 2016), Richard Bowie Spikes, 1942; citing NARA microfilm publication M1936, M1937, M1939, M1951, M1962, M1964, M1986, M2090, and M2097 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
  2. ^ 1880 Federal Census for Dallas County (Texas) Enumeration District 65, Sheet 26, Line 38 lists "Rich'd Spikes" aged one as having been born in Texas
  3. ^ "Someday Sweetheart". Retrieved 2016-02-17. 
  4. ^ cite web |title=Benjamin F. Spikes |url= |date=December 2008 | |accessdate=2016-02-17
  5. ^ "Texas Marriages, 1837-1973," database, FamilySearch ( : accessed 20 February 2016), R. B. Spikes and L. B. Charlton, 18 Oct 1900; citing, Jefferson, Texas, reference 2:12T35XS; FHL microfilm 1,311,467.
  7. ^
  8. ^ (Bisbee, Ariz.) Daily Review, April 24, 1907, 7; May 4, 1907, 2
  9. ^ "New Turn in Saloon Trouble; City Will Arrest Negroes Daily for License Violation," Daily Review, October 15, 1905, 1
  10. ^
  11. ^ Llewellyn Hedgebeth, "Turn, Turn, Turn: A History of the Turn Signal,"
  12. ^ "New Brake Test Device Invented. Machine Records Slippage And May be Used as Check for All Automobiles," (San Francisco) Chronicle, September 11, 1921, A-7
  13. ^ U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.
  14. ^ U.S. Patent 2,562,479