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Garrett Morgan - mini bio

The Great Inventor Garrett A. Morgan

Garrett A. Morgan  1875-1963

Garrett A. Morgan is best remembered for his invention of the automatic traffic signal which brought order from the chaos in the nation's streets and improved traffic safety.  He also invented a gas mask, widely used by fireman in American cities in the early 1900's and by soldiers on the battlefields of Europe during World War I.

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

Morgan's first invention was a belt fastener for sewing machines, which he sold, in 1901, for $50.  In 1909, he opened a tailoring shop, employing 32 workers, which manufactured dresses, suits and coats.  After only one year in business, he was able to buy a home for his wife, Mary Anne Hassek.  They later had three sons.

Morgan directed his attention to the frequent instances of fireman being overcome by fume and thick smoke when they entered burning buildings.  Many respiratory devices of 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 advertisiing 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, and some died in the "death tunnel."  Morgan and his brother Frank were summoned.  Wearing gas masks, Morgan, Frank andtwo volunteers courageously entered the tunnel because fire and police officials were 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 the invention to the General Electric Company for $4,000.

In the 1920's Morgan embarked upon a completely different endeavor.  He and his colleagues started a newspaper, the Cleveland Call, now the "Cleveland Call and Post,"  which has one of the largest circulations of any Black newspaper in the Midwest today.

In 1963, Garrett A. Morgan died at the age of 88, in Cleveland, Ohio, after two years of illness.  Through his creative mind and astute business skills, the world is a safer and more orderly place in which to live.

Excerpt from A Salute to Black Scientists and Inventors.

This is only a summary of the life of Garrett A. Morgan.