Biography Garrett Morgan

Garrett Morgan was an American inventor who lived from 1877 – 1963. Born in Paris, Kentucky to parents who were former slaves, he and his ten siblings helped run the farm on which they resided. By the time Morgan was fourteen, he had grown tired of the farm and moved north to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he found employment with a rather wealthy landowner.

At age 18, Garrett Morgan moved further north to Cleveland, Ohio, finding work as a sewing machine repairman. At the age of 30 he opened his own repair shop. This was soon expanded into a tailor shop.

Morgan was experimenting with different inventions while owning his own shop. It was while he was working on a liquid to make sewing machine needles easier to use, that he discovered that this liquid also straightened out hair. This was the beginning of the G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Company.

Morgan believed in helping the black race as much as possible and in 1908, he helped establish the Cleveland Association of Colored Men.

1920 saw Garrett Morgan expand his business into the publishing world. He established The Cleveland Call. He became very prosperous and was able to buy a house and an automobile, making him the first black person to own a car.

Morgan loved experimenting with new inventions and some of them are still in use today, however, in new and updated forms.

Morgan is credited with inventing the three-position traffic signal. His inspiration for this device was a collision involving an automobile and a horse and carriage. He immediately saw the need for safety on the open road.

There is controversy surrounding the fact of whether or not Morgan actually did invent the first traffic signal in the United States. He was issued the patent for it in 1923, however, 60 different patents had been issued for earlier traffic lights, beginning in 1910. His patent may have been for the first three-position traffic signal patented in the United States. In 1963, Morgan sold his rights to the traffic signal to the General Electric Company for $40,000.

Morgan is also credited with inventing one of the first gas masks, which was actually a Safety Hood and Smoke Protector. This invention won gold medals at the International Exposition of Sanitation and Safety and from The International Association of Fire Chiefs.

In 1916, Morgan put the mask to good use when several men were trapped during an explosion. This occurred in a tunnel underneath Lake Erie. All of the men were safely rescued and Morgan’s gas mask became a very popular item for fire departments.

Garrett Morgan Sr. died on August 27, 1963. He was buried in Cleveland, Ohio.