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Garrett Morgan - Traffic Light

Updated: Aug 24, 2019

Garret Morgan (March 4, 1877 – July 27, 1963) was an African American inventor and businessman as well as an influential political leader. Morgan's most notable invention was the Traffic Light. Morgan also developed the smoke hood also known as the gas mask to be used by firefighters.

Garret Morgan (March 4, 1877 – July 27, 1963) was born in Claysville, Harrison County, Kentucky. His father was Sydney Morgan, a son and freed chattel slave of Confederate Colonel John H. Morgan of the infamous Morgan's Raiders.His mother was a slave called Elizabeth Reed, who was the result of a union between a White minister named Rev. Garrett Reed. Possessing a sixth-grade education, from Branch Elementary School in Claysville, Morgan moved at the age of 14 to Cincinnati, Ohio, in search of employment.

The first American-made automobiles were introduced to consumers just before the turn of the twentieth century, and pedestrians, bicycles, animal-drawn wagons and motor vehicles all had to share the same roads. To deal with the growing problem of traffic accidents, a number of versions of traffic signaling devices began to be developed, starting around 1913. Morgan had witnessed a serious accident at an intersection, and he filed a patent for traffic control device having a third "warning" position in 1922.

Morgan also invented a safety hood smoke protection device after seeing firefighters struggling from the smoke they encountered in the line of duty.His device used a wet sponge to filter out smoke and cool the air. It also took advantage of the way smoke and fumes tend to rise to higher positions while leaving a layer of more breathable air below, by using an air intake tube that dangled near the floor. The safety hood used a series of tubes to draw clean air off the lowest level the tubes could extend to. Smoke, being hotter than the air around it, rises, and by drawing air from the ground, the Safety Hood provided the user with a way to perform emergency respiration. He filed for a patent on the device in 1912, and founded a company called the National Safety Device Company in 1914 to market it.

In 1908, he co-founded the Cleveland Association of Colored Men, a group with the mission of improving economic and social conditions within the African American community (this group would later merged with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)). Morgan served as its treasurer. He was a member of the NAACP and donated money to Historically Black Colleges and Universities colleges.


“Garrett Morgan, Inventor of One of the First Traffic Lights.” African American Registry,📷

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