Garrett Morgan was the son of former slaves and was born in 1877 in rural Kentucky. He had what would be considered a typical childhood and moved to Cincinnati when he was a teenager to find more opportunities than the family farm. Even though he never received a formal education beyond grade school, he had enough money to hire a tutor while living in Cincinnati so that he could effectively read and write. From there, he moved to Cleveland and that’s where his invention journey would begin toward what he called the “safety hood and smoke detector.”
Why Was a Gas Mask Necessary?
In the first days of World War I, there was a lot of concern about poisonous gas being used on the battlefields of Europe. Although the United States didn’t officially enter the war until later, that didn’t mean Americans were just standing idly by at home. Many were anxious to join the war effort and Morgan knew that people needed protection. That’s why in 1914, he patented his safety hood and smoke detector. It was a way to give people added protection in dangerous circumstances.
For two years his invention languished at his production company. No one was really interested in it. It wasn’t until 1916 when Morgan made the national news wire because he was able to use his gas mask, along with a team of volunteers, to reach 32 men who had been trapped in a mining tunnel under Lake Erie. With the gas masks on, they were able to safely retrieve the men. At that point, Morgan’s company started receiving orders from fire departments and the US Army asked for refinements so that it could be used.
What Else Did Garrett Morgan Invent
The other brilliant innovation that Garrett Morgan is remembered for is the standard traffic signal. After witnessing an accident between a carriage and an automobile, Morgan thought that there had to be a better way to control traffic. He wasn’t the first to create a traffic signal by any stretch and there were even other patents issued before his, but the cheap to create signal of Morgan’s was an affordable way for all cities to make busy intersections safer.
His first traffic signal had three signals: a stop signal, a go signal, and an all stop signal. It was situated on a T-shaped pole that was high enough for all to see and could sit on the corner of the street, out of the way of passing traffic. His patent was granted in 1923 and he was able to achieve patents in other countries as well. Eventually Morgan sold his rights to the patent to General Electric.
Garret Morgan may have grown up in what many would consider a humble lifestyle, typical of what was available in America at the time, but he turned his circumstances into an advantage to become one of the world’s most famous inventors. His story is a message that resounds still to this day. No matter who you are, your creativity can propel you to great heights. All you need to do is put in a little work to make it happen.
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