GARRETT AUGUSTUS MORGAN
INVENTOR (1877-1963) Unable to sell his gas mask to fire departments in the South, Morgan hired an
actor friend to pose as an inventor while he dressed up as an Indian chief. The actor
would announce that Big Chief Mason would go inside a smoke-filled tent for ten minutes.
When Morgan emerged after 25 minutes unharmed, people were amazed. Business boomed.
Garrett Augustus Morgan, Sr. was an
American inventor whose curiosity and innovation led him to develop several commercial
products, the successors of which are still in use today. A practical man of humble
beginnings, Morgan devoted his life to creating items that made the lives of common people
safer and more convenient.
Among his creations was the three-position traffic signal, a
traffic management device that greatly improved safety along Americas' streets and
roadways. Morgans' technology was the basis for the modern-day traffic signal and
was a significant contribution to development of what we know as Intelligent
Transportation Systems. Garrett Augustus Morgan, Sr. was born in Paris, Kentucky on March 4, 1877.
His parents were former slaves. Morgan spent his early childhood attending
school and working with his brothers and sisters on the family farm. He left
Kentucky while still a teenager, moving north to Cincinnati, Ohio in search of employment.
An industrious youth, Morgan spent most of his adolescence working as a handyman for
a wealthy Cincinnati landowner.
Similar to many African Americans of his
generation, whose circumstances compelled them to begin working at an early age, Morgans
formal education ended after elementary school. Eager to expand his knowledge,
however the precocious teenager hired a tutor and continued his studies in English grammar
while living in Cincinnati. In 1895, Morgan moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he
worked as a sewing machine repair man for a clothing manufacturer. Experimenting
with gadgets and materials to discover better way of performing his trade became Morgan's
passion. News of his proficiency for fixing things traveled fast and led to numerous
job opportunities with various manufacturing firms throughout the Cleveland area.
Morgan opened his own sewing equipment and repair shop in 1907. It was the first of
several businesses he would start.
Revised: July 18, 2013.