If you have been stopped at a traffic light while hurrying about your day, you may have thought, who invented this? Despite the annoyances at times, we really owe our safety to Garrett Morgan.
Garrett Morgan, a businessman from Cleveland, was a trailblazer for African-American inventors. Morgan was born in Kentucky in 1877. He spent his childhood up into his teenage years in Kentucky before he moved to Cincinnati in search of more opportunities. Having just an elementary school education, Morgan didn’t let that deter him from his successes. While still in Cincinnati, he hired a tutor to continue his studies of English grammar.
In 1895, Morgan took the next step in his life by moving to Cleveland to begin work as a sewing machine repairman for a clothing manufacturer. Once he was in Cleveland, Morgan began making a name for himself as an all around “Fix it man.” He began getting various job offers from manufacturing firms all over the Cleveland area. Learning how to fix things would be the beginning of Morgan’s innovator career. With the approval for a patent that improved the sewing machine, in 1907, Morgan began his own repair and sewing business. This would become just one of the businesses he would own, and in 1909, he expanded his businesses by adding a tailoring shop with 32 employees.
Now Morgan didn’t just stop there. He also saw the opportunities in the newspaper business. In 1920, he established the Cleveland Call newspaper.
As time went on, he became a respected businessman who began seeing the rewards from all his hard work with the purchase of his first home and car.
Morgan’s first invention came about in 1914, when he received a patent for the invention, the Breathing device. In 1916, Morgan’s “gas mask” invention made national news when the masks were used in a rescue of 32 men trapped during an explosion underground below Lake Erie. Morgan’s company was approached by many fire departments around the country who wanted to purchase the new masks.
The gas masks were later refined by the U.S. Army for use during World War 1.
The twentieth century was a busy time for innovation and with that came some cons. Soon after the first automobile was sold, the road became a place where you could find bicycles, animal powered wagons and new gas powered vehicles. This as one would think led to busy roads and more accidents. In 1923, Morgan was inspired to invent the traffic signal, his second most notable invention, after witnessing a collision between an automobile and a horse-drawn carriage. Morgan’s traffic signal had warning lights to alert drivers when to stop. This invention was patented in the U.S., Great Britain and Canada. His patent stated:
“This invention relates to traffic signals, and particularly to those which are adapted to be positioned adjacent the intersection of two or more streets and are manually operable for directing the flow of traffic… In addition, my invention contemplates the provision of a signal which may be readily and cheaply manufactured.”
Morgan eventually sold his rights for traffic signal to General Electric for $40,000 shortly before his death in 1963. The traffic light has since then seen many changes but it’s purpose has remained the same.
Morgan is definitely an inspiration to all inventors because of his determination and drive. His successes provided the foundation for many other advancements that would succeed him. We hope that by highlighting this trailblazer, you are inspired by his story and will continue to research and innovate!
“If you can be the best, then why not try to be the best?” – Garrett Morgan