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American Black History Month: Garrett Morgan (1877-1963)

on Mon, 02/08/2016 - 19:51

In support of Black History Month, we're highlighting Garrett Morgan, American inventor, entrepreneur and community leader. Garrett Morgan is best known for creating life saving inventions, including a smoke mask for firefighters, and the first three signal traffic light. For more information, search Engineering Village databases Compendex, Inspec, NTIS, 1884-2016: ((Garrett Morgan) WN ALL)

Garrett Morgan was born in Kentucky and later moved to Cincinnati where he dropped out of school to work full-time in order to support his family. Both of his parents were former slaves. For employment, Morgan began repairing sewing machines and taking odd jobs to fix broken mechanics.  By 1912, Morgan created and patented a safety mask to prevent smoke inhalation, which he called the "safety hood." He toured the country selling the device. In 1916, he famously used the safety hood to rescue trapped men in a collapsed tunnel beneath Lake Erie. He and other men wearing safety hoods were able to free several survivors by wearing the masks to endure the conditions. After the rescue, fire departments from around the country requested the new safety hoods.Later, the hood was refined by the U.S. Army and used during World War I. In 1914, Garrett Morgan received a Safety Hood and Smoke Protector patent for his invention.

In 1923, Garrett Morgan patented another invention, the three position traffic signal, to help safely organize turn of the century, cars, horse-drawn carriages, bicycles and other pedestrians, all sharing the road. This light is most recognized as America's interim yellow "warning" light to slow down in preparation for a full stop. Morgan later sold the rights of his patent to General Electric for $40,000.

Throughout his life Garrett Morgan worked to improve the socioeconomic status of African Americans. Morgan helped found the Cleveland Association of Colored Men, the Cleveland Hall Newspaper, and he became a member of the Prince Hall Freemason fraternal organization. He is also credited for creating the first all-black-member country club, the Wakeman Country Club. 

Return to the Engineering Village blog this month for more stories celebrating (U.S.) Black History Month.