Garrett Morgan

QUick Look At Morgan

Garrett Morgan was a Black inventor whose most famous inventions were the traffic light, the improved sewing machine, and a hair straightening product.

Early Life

Garrett Morgan was born on March 4, 1877, in Paris, Kentucky. He was one of the oldest of his ten siblings. His mother was of African and Indian descent, and his father was a former slave. Morgan moved to Cincinnati at only 14 years old to find a job. He found a job as a handyman, and since he only had an elementary school education, he paid for a tutor. After working as a handyman, Morgan moved to Cleveland where he took a job as a sewing machine repairman.


Morgan's repairman job taught him the mechanical parts of sewing machines and how they worked. In 1907 he opened his own repair shop after improving the sewing machine. After his repair shop was a success, he opened a tailoring shop with his wife, who was a seamstress. One day, Morgan was working with a sewing machine in his shop, when one piece of fabric he was using was burned by the needle. This would happen a lot when using sewing machines back then because the needle ran so fast. He began testing a chemical solution that would potentially decrease the amount of friction caused by the needle. When he applied the solution to the fabric, Morgan noticed that the fabric hairs were straighter. He then went on to test it on a neighbor's dog before testing it on his own hair. Soon after he realized he had a successful product, Morgan created the G. A. Morgan Hair Refining Company, where he sold his new hair straightening cream to other African Americans. This product was extremely successful. Morgan patented a safety hood in 1914. Similar to a gas mask, this hood was made to protect people from breathing in chemicals or gas. This was actually the invention that inspired the gas masks used during World War I. He faced problems when it came to selling his invention to white customers. Due to racial discrimination, many people were resistant to purchase from a Black inventor. To help his invention, Morgan hired a white actor for presentations of the safety hood. This actor would pretend to be the inventor of Morgan's device, while Morgan would pretend to be the inventor's Native American sidekick, Big Chief Mason. This method was highly successful in terms of the sales of the safety hood. It was commonly purchased by rescue workers and firefighters.

In 1916, a freshwater supply tunnel was being drilled underneath Lake Erie, when a natural gas explosion occurred. Several workers were trapped underground, suffocating. Upon hearing about the explosion, Morgan and one of his brothers sprung to action. They put on their safety hoods and rushed to the tunnel in an effort to save the miners. They were able to save two people's lives, and they recovered four bodies. After this heroic rescue, everyone knew that Morgan was Black and that he was the real inventor of the safety hood. This hurt his sales, and he did not get any recognition for the people that he and his brother saved that day.

While this hurt his sales, Morgan did not allow it to hurt his pride or determination. He continued saving lives with his inventions. During that time, traffic signals were manually operated, and they only had two signals; Stop and Go. People had no time for transition in between, and this resulted in a lot of crashes and collisions on the roads. In 1923, Morgan invented the traffic light, which had an additional signal between stop and go to warn drivers when they were about to have to stop. This traffic light was sold across America, Canada, and Britain, and besides technological upgrades, it's the same traffic light we use on our roads today. Eventually, Morgan sold the rights to the traffic light for $40,000. In 1920, he created a Black newspaper called the Cleveland Call, and he later opened an all-Black country club. He was also a member of the NAACP, which was pretty new at the time that he joined. Morgan died on July 27, 1963.

Garrett Morgan saved and changed lives with his inventions, and no matter how much people, the press, or the country put him down, Morgan kept rising up.