Garrett A. Morgan was a great inventor of the 20th century. He was born on March 4, 1877, in Paris, Kentucky. His parents were former slaves, and he was the seventh of eleven children. He left his home as a teenager and travelled to Ohio to look for work. He found work in Cincinnati working for a landowner. He left Cincinnati to go to Cleveland.
In Cleveland, he worked as a sewing machine mechanic for a company. In 1901, Morgan sold an invention which was a belt fastener for sewing machines. Morgan eventually opened a sewing machine business. In 1909, he opened a tailoring shop that employed more than 30 people. In the tailoring shop he created the sewing equipment that he used to make the clothing. In addition, Morgan started a poultry business.
On October 13, 1914, Garrett Morgan was granted a patent for a gas mask or “breathing device.” Morgan used the mask to save people trapped in a tunnel under Lake Erie. He started the National Safety Device Company to manufacture the masks. A later version of the mask was used during World War I. The Massachusetts Institute of Engineering described the mask as a “breathing device consisting of a canvas hood placed over the head. A double tube extended from the hood and merged into a single tube at the back. The open end held a sponge soaked with water to filter out smoke and to cool incoming air.”
In 1913, Morgan started G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Company. He created and manufactured G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Cream which was a chemical solution used to straighten hair. In addition, he made a black oil hair dye and a curved tooth pressing comb.
Garrett Morgan was granted a patent for a traffic signal on November 20, 1923. The Department of Transportation’s website states that “the traffic signal was a T-shaped pole unit that featured three positions: Stop, Go and an all-directional stop position.”
Morgan started the Cleveland Call newspaper in 1920. The Cleveland Call was a newspaper that published news about the African American community. Other inventions made by Morgan were the friction drive clutch and a self extinguishing cigarette filter.
Garrett Morgan received awards and recognitions for his inventions. He received gold medals for a model of his gas mask at the International Exposition of Sanitation and Safety and the International Association of Fire Chiefs. In 1963, the U.S. Government awarded Morgan a citation for the traffic signal. In Prince George’s County, Maryland, there is a metro rail station named Morgan Boulevard in honor of Garrett Morgan.
In 1896, Morgan married Madge Nelson. They got a divorce in 1898. In 1908, Garrett Morgan married Mary Anne Hasek. They had three sons. Garrett Morgan died in 1963.
Murphy, P. J., (2004) Garrett Morgan Inventor of the Traffic Light and Gas Mask, Enslow Publishers, Inc.