Husband, Father, pioneer, Visionary, Inventor, Entrepreneur, Humanitarian, Activist
Garrett was born in Kentucky on March 4 1887. He was the seventh out of the 11 siblings. At the age of 14 he picked and moved to Cincinnati Ohio. There he was employed in a tailors shop. He became very intrigued with the way a sewing machine would operate. At times he would disassemble and reassemble them. He took up the mastering of sewing and how all of the operations worked including setting up a shop. In 1896 he married Madge Nelson the nuptials ended very quickly. While single he kept himself busy learning and creating. In 1908 he helps to establish the Cleveland Association for Colored Men this association merged with the NAACP also. In the same year 1908 he married again to Maryanne Hassek their nuptials were permanent. They had three sons. They both later opened a sewing and repair shop. In 1909, he expanded the enterprise to include a tailoring shop that employed 32 employees. This was the first of several businesses Morgan would establish… During this time, Morgan invented a zigzag stitching attachment for manually operated sewing machine and his company turned out coats, suits and dresses, all sewn with equipment that Garrett Morgan himself had made. Garrett also designed a way of straightening the hair with a comb.
Garrett started another invention which was the Safety Hood safely breathing devise (today Gas Mask) in 1914 and it was patent. The reason for this invention he created the model for the use of the military in the army due to the apparent use of nerve gas, and for the profession of firemen engineers and chemists. The first use was in a national tragic where an explosion in Lake Erie an underground tunnel at 250 ft trapped 32 workers. Garrett personally made four trips into the tunnel during the rescue, and his health was affected for years afterward from the fumes he encountered there He and his brother and volunteers placed the mask on and headed in and with all the fumes and saved 18 people out of 32 trapped.
The Cleveland’s newspapers and city officials initially ignored Garrett Morgan’s act of heroism as the first to rush into the tunnel wearing house clothes for the rescue and his key role as the provider of the equipment he invented that made the rescue possible. It took the city years for the officials to recognize his contributions in the major event that rocked Lake Erie.
The City officials eventually after many request and petitions requested the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission to issue medals to several of the men involved in the rescue, but excluded Garrett Morgan from their request. He believed that the omission was racially motivated. Due to the era in time it can be justified that it was because Garrett was a black inventor and saved white people lives that were in danger.
A group citizen of Cleveland in 1917 tried to correct for the omission by presenting him with a diamond-studded gold medal. He was also given a medal from the International Association of Fire Engineers, which made him an honorary member during that same year. After the rescue, Garrett Morgan’s company the National Safety Device Company in 1914 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 1920 through all his passion and endeavors and inventions he became financially successful and respected. Garrett Morgan moved into the newspaper business when he established the Cleveland Call.
He and his wife purchase a Ford motor vehicle for the convinces of his business and their lifestyle during the era of horse carrying carriages was still being a form of transportation sharing the same road. Due to that fact there were lot of accidents and fatalities every day. The constant road incidents made Garrett concerned for the safety of his family and the community for too many lives were being lost and left in a tragedy state. The city tried to set up traffic towers and police officers to direct busy traffic in busy intersections of the city but that was too costly.
Garrett went with his passion and began to brainstorm. He visualized, created and designed a traffic T POLE SIGNAL FOR ALL MOVING TRAFFIC model. The patent was granted on November 20, 1923. Garrett Morgan also had his invention patented in Great Britain and Canada. This is used today but in a different formant.
During the verbal hearing for his patent Garrett said “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. 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.
After the success of the invention Garrett sold the patent and all the rights is his traffic signal pole to the General Electric Corporation for $40,000.
His newspaper company merged in 1928 and was called the Call and Post. At the Emancipation Centennial Celebration in Chicago, Illinois, in August 1963, Morgan was nationally recognized. Although in ill-health, and nearly blind, he continued to work on his inventions; one of his last was a self-extinguishing cigarette, which had a small plastic pellet filled with water, placed just before the filter.
Garrett later in life had major health problems including Glaucoma and suffered from them in 1943. Garrett Morgan passed away on August 27, 1963 at the age of 86. He is laid to rest at the Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.
Garrett Morgan was a member of the Prince Hall Freemason fraternal organization, a predominantly black Freemason group Excelsior Lodge No. 11 of Cleveland, Ohio.
He was a member of the NAACP
In the Cleveland, Ohio area, the Garrett A. Morgan Cleveland School of Science and the Garret A. Morgan Water Treatment Plant has been named in his honor. An elementary school in Chicago, Illinois was also named after him.
Prince George’s County, Maryland, there is a street named Garrett A. Morgan Boulevard in his honor.
Morgan was included in the 2002 book 100 Greatest African Americas by Molefi Kete Asante.
Morgan was an honorary member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity
Garrett also designed a straighting comb