Who Is Garrett A. Morgan 1877-1963?

Millions of lives are saved by the use of African American inventor Garrett Morgan's safety devices: the gas mask and traffic signal.

Garrett Augustus Morgan was born in 1877 in Paris, Kentucky. He dropped out of school at the age of 14 and moved to Cleveland Ohio where he began working at a sewing-machine shop. He became interested in the improvement of machines and designed a belt fastener for the sewing machine, which he sold for $150.

In 1909, Morgan opened a clothing manufacturing company and continued to invent new devices. Morgan was interested in workers' safety. He invented a safety hood, called an "inhalator," which he patented in 1912 (patent #1,113,675). This device was an early version of the gas mask. He won the grand prize for the invention in 1914 at the second International Exposition of Safety and Sanitation.

On July 25, 1916, a tunnel was being built in Cleveland, under Lake Erie, to create a shortcut for the congested traffic conditions in the city. During construction, explosions ripped throughout the tunnel. Efforts to rescue the wounded were hampered by the smoke, dust and stifling natural gas, and many firefighters and tunnel workers died. Morgan and his brother were asked to assist in the rescue mission. They used the safety hoods, which filtered the air, and ventured into the tunnel that was 5 miles out and 282 feet under Lake Erie. They and other volunteers were able to rescue the wounded using the gas masks. The City of Cleveland awarded the Morgan brothers a gold medal for their heroism and use of Garrett's life saving invention. After Morgan's success with the gas mask, he received many orders from fire departments, chemists, miners and engineers. Unfortunately due to racism, when it was discovered that Morgan was African American, many orders for his device were cancelled. In order to sell his device, Morgan resorted to hiring a white man to impersonate him.



Morgan did not let prejudice against him stop his efforts to invent devices to make the world a safer place. In 1920, the use of the automobiles increased, causing traffic congestion in many of the large U.S. cities. In 1923, Morgan designed and patented a traffic signal (patent #1,475,024). The signal consisted of a tall post with movable arms that monitored and controlled traffic. The post rotated and the arms moved up. The signal contained lights that flashed the words "stop" and "go." The posts used batteries and electricity from overhead wires. A set of bells signaled that the post was changing direction. Morgan sold the rights to his traffic signal patent to the General Electric Company. Many modern day traffic signals still incorporate the features of Morgan's early invention.

In addition to Morgan's safety devices, he patented a hair straightener, called G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Cream. He also published "The Cleveland Call" newspaper. Throughout his productive life, Morgan made many contributions to his community, and millions of lives were saved by the use of his gas mask and traffic signal. Morgan formed the National Safety Device Company and G.A. Morgan Safety System Company, both of which received recognition for dependability. He died in 1963 leaving a legacy of a life devoted to bettering the quality of life for all people.

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