• Inventor: Garret Augustus Morgan
  • Inventions: Traffic signal, respiratory protective hood, hair-straightening preparation

One man who proved himself to be someone with people oriented idea is Garret Augustus Morgan Sr. His practical approach to issues earned him a lot of respect from people around him. His humble beginning too endeared him to the common man. All through his life, Morgan devoted himself to creating items of safety and convenience; one of them being the traffic signal.

Picture of Garrett Morgan
Garrett Augustus Morgan was born in Paris, Kentucky on March 4, 1877 in a former slave parent’s family. He had his elementary school education and started working with his brothers and sisters on the family farm. He left Kentucky as a teenager to Cincinnati, Ohio in search of employment. His eagerness to expand his knowledge made him hire a tutor and thus continue his studies while living in Cincinnati.

In 1895, Morgan moved to Cleveland where he worked as a sewing machine repairman for a clothing manufacturer. He was passionate in discovering better ways of performing his job. News of his outstanding performance resulted in numerous job opportunities for him as the news traveled fast.

Morgan became independent when he opened a sewing equipment and repair shop in 1907. The enterprise was expanded to include a tailoring shop making coats, suits, and dresses with equipments he made by himself. The new company had 32 employees at one point. In 1920, Morgan started the Cleveland Call news paper. He was successful as a businessman, and was widely respected. He was the first African-American in Cleveland to own a vehicle.

The development of modern technology in the 20th century led to the introduction of automobiles. These automobiles shared the open road with bicycle, animal powered-wagons, and of course with the pedestrians. Accidents frequently occurred between the vehicles and other occupants of the roads. After coming to know about a collision between an automobile and a horse-draw carriage, Morgan decided to do something to improve traffic safety.

Invention of traffic light

In 1923, Garrett Morgan patented his own version of traffic light. The Morgan traffic signal was a T-shaped pole unit that featured three hand-cranked positions: Stop, in all -directional stop position. This third position halted traffic in all directions to allow pedestrians to cross streets more safely. Using a mechanical linkage, it could be operated from a distance.

Invention of safety hood

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911 caused the deaths of 146 garment workers. Most of them died in the fire, and some jumped to their deaths when they saw the all-engulfing fire. This horrible accident provided the impetus for Garrett Morgan to patent a rudimentary safety hood and smoke protector. Within 5 years, it was used in a spectacular fashion. In 1916, he and three other men used his safety hood and smoke protector to save two men from the fire which erupted after a tunnel explosion near Lake Erie. This brought national recognition to his invention. Morgan was awarded a gold medal for bravery by prominent citizens of Cleveland and by the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
Garrett Morgan rescuing a person using his safety hood

Other inventions

Some of his other achievements include the development of hair dying ointment and curved tooth comb. In 1912, Morgan received a patent for his safety hood and smoke protector.

After another black inventor, Benjamin Banneker, Garrett Morgan was one of the black inventors who made an impact, along with another black inventor, George Washington Carver(who was Morgan’s contemporary). Morgan received numerous awards and recognitions for his inventions before passing away on July 27, 1963.