Garrett Augustus Morgan was born in Paris, Kentucky on March 4, 1877. His parents were Sidney and Elizabeth Reed Morgan. He grew up working with his ten Afro-American brothers and sisters on the family farm. He was fortunate in that he was able to get an elementary education during his childhood too.
Morgan moved away from his Kentucky home and headed to Cincinnati, Ohio when he was a teenager. He was looking for work. He was also looking to find what the world had in store for him.
Aware that he lacked education, Garrett Morgan was able to hire a tutor while he lived in Cinncinnati. He studied English grammar with the tutor.
Still searching for better work and opportunity, Morgan moved to Cleveland, Ohio in 1895. He got a job fixing sewing machines for a clothing factory. The young Afro-American performed his job well. He also invented a belt fastener for a sewing machine. This earned him a reputation of being excellent when it came to inventing and fixing things.
Morgan finally saw the perfect chance for him… he ended his employment at the clothing factory and started his own sewing equipment and fixit shop in 1907.
Business was booming, so, in addition to his existing business, Morgan opened a tailor shop in 1909. He hired several employees. They sewed up all sorts of clothing, and it was all made by using machinery that Garrett Morgan had invented and constructed.
Always looking for new ideas, Garrett Morgan realized there was a need to communicate news of Afro-American activities in the city of Cleveland. So, he started up a newspaper known as the “Cleveland Call” in 1920.
As time passed, and his businesses thrived, Garrett Morgan became a respected Afro-American businessman. He also became a wealthy one. It wasn’t very many people who owned an automobile at that time. Especially the Afro-Americans. People either got to their destinations on foot, by using wagons or bicycles, or, for the fortunate few, by driving automobiles. Morgan purchased an automobile and he quickly learned how to operate it.
It was while he was out driving one day that he saw the need for another invention. Because the city streets were congested with pedestrians, wagons, bicycles, and automobiles coming and going this way and that, accidents often happened. And on that day, Morgan saw an automobile and a horse and carriage collide at an intersection. So, he invented the “traffic signal”. His invention was a tee-shaped pole that stopped some traffic, allowed other traffic to move, or, that stopped all the traffic so the pedestrians could cross the streets without running the risk of being runover.
Garrett Morgan received a United States patent for his traffic signal on November 20, 1923. This invention helped to make city streets all over the United States safer. Years later, Morgan sold the rights to his traffic signal to the General Electric Corporation. He was also given an award for inventing this life-saving device by the United States government.
Still on the look out for new ideas, Afro-American inventor Garrett Morgan came up with the idea for yet another device that would help save the lives of countless people. The year was 1914. This invention was originally called the “Morgan Safety Hood and Smoke Protector.” Today, it is known as the “Gas Mask.”
Morgan proved the worthiness of his Safety Hood and Smoke Protector on July 25, 1916. It was that day when he and some other men used his mask to save thirty-two men who were trapped in a collapsed tunnel under Lake Erie.
His gas mask was used by fire departments and by American soldiers in World War I.
Garrett Morgan, the famous Afro-American inventor, finally passed away on August 27, 1963.