Ned Eastman Barnes, African-American inventor, son of Smith Barnes and Silvia (or Slyvia) Barnes, was born in January 1866 in Walker County, Texas. Both of his parents were from Alabama; they lived in Walker County for several years before Ned’s birth. They had a large family: five sons and three daughters.
The Smith Barnes family moved to Willis, Texas, by 1870. Ned Barnes attended public school for just four or five years. While still a child, he was employed as a house boy by the T. W. Smith-Owen A. Smith family. Willis later became, for several years, a tobacco-growing and cigar manufacturing center. Owen Smith built a three-story brick plant to manufacture cigars in Willis; the plant employed more than 100 workers (see WILLIS CIGAR FACTORY).
In 1885 Ned Barnes married Ada Johnson. Barnes acquired a 160-acre farm outside Willis, farmed the land, and joined the Farmers’ Improvement Society. Around 1900 he built a family home, cutting most of the timber himself that he then used in building the house.
Beginning in 1905, Barnes applied for and received ten U.S. patents on inventions (including one in which he was co-inventor), several of them having to do with railroads. His first patent (no. 792,109), for a sand band to protect the hubs of wagon wheels, was granted on June 13, 1905. His final patent (no. 1,673,729), for a pole, post, and tree protector, was issued on June 12, 1928. In 1913 Barnes opened an office in Houston, about forty-five miles south of Willis, to work on his inventions and his patent applications; it was located at 308 St. Emanuel Street. Barnes assigned one-half of his 1910 patent no. 969,592 to Owen A. Smith (whose family had virtually raised Barnes) and one-fourth of it to Willis public school principal H.A. McDonald. The two men probably were investors in that invention by Barnes.
Barnes’s railroad inventions included a brace to maintain the distance between train rails, an electric projector to display train arrival and departure times, a railway tie plate, and a hot-box cooler and oiler. One patent (no. 1,124,879), for an automatic film-mover, was granted to its two co-inventors, Berger Edmond of Houston, and Ned Barnes.
Two of Ned and Ada Barnes’s children died young. Their three surviving biological children, all sons, attended what is now Prairie View A&M University. Ned and Ada Barnes also adopted a daughter. Two of the sons became school teachers, and the other, James, became his father’s personal secretary and assistant.
Ned Eastman Barnes died in Montgomery County on November 14, 1950. He was a deacon of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Willis and superintendent of the church’s Sunday school. He also was a Mason and a member of the Knights of Pythias.