Mask (Click image for larger view)
Garrett Morgan was an inventor and
businessman from Cleveland who invented a device called the Morgan safety
hood and smoke protector in 1914. On July 25, 1916, Garrett Morgan made
national news for using his gas mask to rescue 32 men trapped during an
explosion in an underground tunnel 250 feet beneath Lake Erie. Morgan and
a team of volunteers donned the new "gas masks" and went to the rescue.
After the rescue, Morgan's company received requests from fire departments
around the country who wished to purchase the new masks. The Morgan gas
mask was later refined for use by U.S. Army during World War I. In 1914,
Garrett Morgan was awarded a patent for a Safety Hood and Smoke Protector.
Two years later, a refined model of his early gas mask won a gold medal
at the International Exposition of Sanitation and Safety, and another gold
medal from the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
Morgan's Early Life
The son of former slaves, Garrett
Morgan was born in Paris, Kentucky on March 4, 1877. His early childhood
was spent attending school and working on the family farm with his brothers
and sisters. While still a teenager, he left Kentucky and moved north to
Cincinnati, Ohio in search of opportunity.
Although Garrett Morgan's formal
education never took him beyond elementary school, he hired a tutor while
living in Cincinnati and continued his studies in English grammar. In 1895,
Morgan moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he went to work as a sewing machine
repair man for a clothing manufacturer. News of his proficiency for fixing
things and experimenting traveled fast and led to numerous job offers from
various manufacturing firms in the Cleveland area.
In 1907, the inventor opened his
own sewing equipment and repair shop. It was the first of several businesses
he would establish. In 1909, he expanded the enterprise to include a tailoring
shop that employed 32 employees. The new company turned out coats, suits
and dresses, all sewn with equipment that Garrett Morgan himself had made.
In 1920, Garrett Morgan moved into
the newspaper business when he established the Cleveland Call. As the years
went on, he became a prosperous and widely respected business man, and
he was able to purchase a home and an automobile. Indeed it was Morgan's
experience while driving along the streets of Cleveland that inspired him
to invent an improvement to traffic signals.
Morgan Traffic Signal (Click image for larger view)
The first American-made automobiles
were introduced to U.S. consumers shortly before the turn of the century.
The Ford Motor Company was founded in 1903 and with it American consumers
began to discover the adventures of the open road. In the early years of
the 20th century it was not uncommon for bicycles, animal-powered wagons,
and new gasoline-powered motor vehicles to share the same streets and roadways
with pedestrians. Accidents were frequent. After witnessing a collision
between an automobile and a horse-drawn carriage, Garrett Morgan took his
turn at inventing a traffic signal. Other inventors
had experimented with, marketed, and even patented traffic signals, however,
Garrett Morgan was one of the first to apply for and acquire a U.S. patent
for an inexpensive to produce traffic signal. The patent was granted on
November 20, 1923. Garrett Morgan also had his invention patented in
Great Britain and Canada.
Garrett Morgan stated in his patent
for the traffic signal, "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."
The Morgan traffic signal was a T-shaped
pole unit that featured three positions: Stop, Go and an all-directional
stop position. This “third position” halted traffic in all directions to
allow pedestrians to cross streets more safely.
Garrett Morgan's hand-cranked semaphore
traffic management device was in use throughout North America until all
manual traffic signals were replaced by the automatic red, yellow, and green-light
traffic signals currently used around the world. The inventor sold the
rights to his traffic signal to the General Electric Corporation for $40,000.
Shortly before his death in 1963, Garrett Morgan was awarded a citation
for his traffic signal by the United States Government.
Garrett Morgan was constantly experimenting
to develop new concepts. Though the traffic signal came at the height of
his career and became one of his most renowned inventions, it was just
one of several innovations he developed, manufactured, and sold over the
Morgan invented a zig-zag stitching
attachment for manually operated sewing machine. He also founded a company
that made personal grooming products, such as hair dying ointments and
the curved-tooth pressing comb.
As word of Garrett 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 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.
Continue with >> Garrett
Morgan's Patent Drawings or General History
of Gas Masks
drawings from the USPTO