Garrett Morgan: The Unsung Hero Behind Your Traffic Light and Gas Mask

However, there is no evidence to support these claims - he was a brilliant inventor who made significant contributions to society.

Early Life and Background

Garrett Augustus Morgan was born on March 4, 1877, in Paris, Kentucky.

He was the seventh of eleven children to Sydney, a son of a Confederate Colonel John Hunt Morgan, and Elizabeth Reed, a daughter of a Native American woman and an enslaved man.

Morgan’s mixed heritage was not uncommon in the post-Civil War era, and it played a significant role in shaping his identity and experiences as an African American.

At a young age, Morgan moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, to look for work.

With minimal formal education, he began his ambitious journey in a city that offered opportunities unattainable in rural Kentucky.

Despite having only an elementary school education, he possessed a strong work ethic and a keen mind for business and invention.

In Cincinnati, he started as a handyman before becoming a tailor’s apprentice.

Here, he learned the intricacies of sewing and clothing repair—an expertise that laid the groundwork for his later inventions.

Morgan’s early life was marked by tenacity and the determination to improve his circumstances, characteristics that would serve him well as he progressed through life.

His experiences as a young Black man at the turn of the 20th century were not without challenges; yet, Garrett Morgan’s resilience and innovative spirit set the stage for his significant contributions to society—that would benefit not only African Americans but all citizens for generations to come.

Inventions and Innovations

Garrett Morgan was a prolific inventor and entrepreneur whose ingenuity led to several key inventions that have greatly impacted safety and everyday life.

His innovations ranged from crucial safety devices to improved traffic management systems.

Safety Hood and Gas Mask

In 1914, Garrett Morgan patented the Safety Hood and Gas Mask, offering firefighters a way to avoid smoke inhalation during rescues.

This breathing device proved vital in saving lives from suffocating environments, and it was utilized widely, even during World War I, enhancing the safety of combatants facing chemical warfare.

Traffic Signal

Morgan revolutionized road safety when he introduced an improved traffic signal, patented in 1923.

Amidst the growing number of automobiles, his invention featured a warning light to alert drivers of an impending change, reducing the risk of traffic collisions and enhancing overall safety at intersections.

Business Ventures

As a visionary entrepreneur, Morgan established several businesses, including the G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Company.

He also was engaged with the Cleveland Call, a newspaper serving the African American community.

Mechanical Innovations

Morgan’s mechanical talent was not limited to safety devices.

He also innovated in the realm of sewing machines and created improvements such as a belt fastener and a friction drive clutch, which reflected his versatile engineering skills.

Civic Engagement and Legacy

Garrett Morgan’s legacy extends far beyond his inventions.

He was an active member of the Cleveland Association of Colored Men and was instrumental in the founding of the Cleveland Call.

His commitment to civic issues, especially those affecting African Americans, has left a lasting impact on the community.

Safety Devices

Morgan’s dedication to enhancing safety led to the development of not only the gas mask but also other safety equipment, including a proto version of a three-way traffic light and a self-extinguishing cigarette.

His mechanical expertise and focus on safeguarding lives continue to be celebrated.