Garrett Morgan, inventor of one of the first traffic lights
*On this date, in 1877, we mark the birth of Garrett Augustus Morgan. He was an African-American businessman and inventor.
The son of former slaves, Garrett Morgan was born in Paris, Kentucky, his early childhood was spent attending school and working on the family farm. In 1895, Morgan moved to Cleveland, where he went to work as a sewing machine repair man for a clothing manufacturer; he opened his own shop in 1907. The company turned out coats, suits, and dresses, all sewn with equipment that Morgan himself had made. In 1920, Morgan moved into the newspaper business establishing the Cleveland Call.
His curiosity and innovation led to the development of many useful and helpful products. Among his inventions was an early traffic signal. After witnessing a collision between an automobile and a horse-drawn carriage, Morgan was convinced that something should be done to improve traffic safety. Morgan was one of the first to apply for and acquire a U.S. patent for a traffic signal. The patent was granted on November 20, 1923. Morgan later had the technology patented in Great Britain and Canada. He also invented a zigzag stitching attachment for manually operated sewing machine. In 1916, Morgan made national news for using a gas mask he had invented to rescue several men trapped during an explosion in an underground tunnel beneath Lake Erie. After the rescue, Morgan’s company received requests from fire departments around the country that wished to purchase the new masks.
The Morgan gas mask was later refined for use by U.S. Army during World War I in 1921. As word of Morgan’s life-saving inventions spread across North America and England, demand for these products grew. He was frequently invited to conventions and public exhibitions to demonstrate how his inventions worked. Garrett A. Morgan died on August 27, 1963, at the age of 86. His life was long and full, and his creative energies have given us a marvelous and lasting legacy.
Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century.
Edited by Leon Litwack and August Meier
Copyright 1998, University if Illinois Press
Created Equal The Lives and Ideas of Black American Innovators
By James Michael Brodie
Copyright 1993, by Bill Adler Books, Inc.
William Morrow and Co. Inc., New York
Today in American History