Garrett A Morgan

GARRETT A MORGAN – 1875-1963
Garrett A Morgan invented the automatic traffic signal, which brought order to the nation’s streets and improved traffic safety. He also invented a gas mask, which was widely used by firemen in American cities in the early 1900’s and by soldiers on the battlefields of Europe during World War I.

Morgan was born on March 4, 1875, in Paris, Kentucky. He was the seventh of eleven children born to Elizabeth and Sydney Morgan. He left school after the fifth grade, at the age of 14 and moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he secured a job as a handy man in a sewing machine shop.

His first invention was a belt fastener for sewing machines, which he sold in 1901 for $50.00. In 1909, he opened a tailoring shop, which manufactured dresses, suits and coats and employed 32 workers. After one year in the business, he was able to buy a home with his wife, Mary Anne Hassek. They later had three sons.

In 1913, he unintentionally discovered a substance that would straighten hair, which later marketed. The profits obtained from the G A Morgan Hair Refining Company enabled Morgan to concentrate on his other inventions.

Morgan directed his attention t o the frequent instances of firemen being overcome by fumes and thick smoke when they entered burning buildings. Many respiratory devices of that time were not dependable and frequently malfunctioned. Consequently, he perfected a breathing device, which he patented in 1914. This gas mask was widely used by engineers, chemists and working men who were exposed to noxious fumes or dust. He later modified it to carry its own air supply, and it had great significance on World War I battlefields and in subsequent wars. Morgan founded the National Safety device Company and extensively utilized the advertising media to promote his invention.

On the night of July 25, 1916, a tunnel being constructed under Lake Erie exploded, leaving many workers of the Cleveland Water Works trapped, some died in this “death tunnel.” Morgan and his brother Frank, were sent for and wearing gas masks, Morgan, Frank and two volunteers bravely entered the tunnel because fire and police officials were afraid to do so. They all emerged safely, and many lives were saved. Morgan’s brave act appeared in newspapers all over the country. He was awarded medals from the International Association of Fire Engineers, which made him an honorary member of the Cleveland Citizens’ Group. He received a solid gold medal and the grand prize at the Second International Exposition of Safety and Sanitation.

In 1923, Morgan patented an automatic traffic signal. This signal became the forerunner of the overhead and sidewalk traffic lights that we use each day. He sold this invention to the General Electric Company for $4,000.

In the 1920’s, Morgan and his colleagues started a newspaper, the Cleveland Call, now known as the “Cleveland Call and Post,” which has one of the largest circulations of any Black newspaper in the Midwest today.