Garrett Morgan, age, inventions, family, Biography.

A pioneer inventor, Garrett A. Morgan (1877-1963) was responsible for the creation of such life-saving inventions as the gas mask and traffic lights. He was an African-American inventor.

Garrett Morgan, age, inventions, family, Biography.
Garrett Morgan Biography

Garrett A. Morgan - Biography

Short Biography

Garrett Morgan was born on 04-03-1877 in Paris in the state of Kentucky, United States. He was an African American Inventor, Scientist & Entrepreneur.

Garrett A. Morgan, Garrett Augustus Morgan was an African-American inventor.

Garrett Morgan was a self-educated and creative individual whose inventions contributed to greater safety and order in our society. He pursued an early interest in things mechanical to develop inventions of surprising technological complexity, considering the fact that he received no formal education beyond the fifth grade.

Morgan showed an astute business sense as well, establishing profitable and long-lived companies to manufacture and market his inventions. He was also something of a showman, devising creative and unusual ways to demonstrate his inventions and generate interest in them. Throughout his career, his inventions and activities revealed a deep concern with the safety and welfare of his fellow citizens.

 In a long and productive career that spanned over 40 years, Garrett A. Morgan invented a variety of products and services, most of which are now called “safety features.” His creations, for many of which he held patents, brought him much fame and prosperity in his lifetime, and he was nationally honored by many organizations, including the Emancipation Centennial in 1963.


Garrett Morgan blazed a trail for African-American inventors with his patents, including those for a hair-straightening product, a breathing device, a revamped sewing machine and an improved traffic signal.

After a decade of experience with sewing equipment, he launched his own sewing machine in 1907.
In 1908, Morgan founded the Cleveland Association of Colored Men. Under his leadership, the community helped improve the social and economic status of African Americans. The community later merged with NAACP.
In 1909, the inventor expanded his venture by opening Morgan's Cut Rate Ladies Clothing Store. Then in 1912, he developed the smoke hood. Its success later resulted in the formation of the National Safety Device Company.
Morgan’s business began to flourish rapidly with the creation of some hair care products. Their invention led him to launch the G. A. Morgan Hair Refining Company which started selling his hair care products, including a hair straightening comb and cream, and a hair color.
In 1920, he founded a weekly newspaper called the ‘Cleveland Call’. Later, in 1938, the newspaper merged with the ‘Cleveland Call and Post’ newspaper.
During his lifetime, Morgan was an honourable member of the Antioch Baptist Church, the Prince Hall Freemason fraternal organization, and the International Association of Fire Engineers.

Left school at age 14 and moved to Cincinnati, where he worked as a handyman; left Cincinnati in 1895 and settled in Cleveland, where he worked as a sewing machine mechanic; sold first invention, a belt fastener for sewing machines, 1901; opened own sewing machine sales and service business, 1907; began tailoring business, 1909; invented gas mask, 1912, formed the National Safety Device Co. to manufacture it, 1914; invented hair straightener and opened G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Cream company to produce it, 1913; invented traffic signal, 1922; owner and publisher of newspaper Cleveland Call (later the Call & Post) beginning in 1920s; political candidate in Cleveland's City Council race, 1931.

Early Years

He was the seventh of eleven children born to Sydney Morgan, a former slave who was freed in 1863, and Elizabeth (Reed) Morgan. Leaving home at age 14 with only an elementary school education, Morgan eventually settled in Cleveland. He taught himself to repair sewing machines, working with a number of companies before opening his own sewing machine business specializing in 1907. The venture was successful, enabling Morgan to set up house in Cleveland, and in 1908, he married Mary Anne Hassek. Together they had three sons.

A Life of Invention

Eventually, Morgan opened his own tailoring shop, and it was here that he developed his first unique product. Like others in the clothing industry, Morgan had set out to solve a common problem in sewing woolen material: the sewing machine needle operated at such high speed that it often scorched the fabric. Morgan, who was working with a chemical solution to reduce this friction, noticed that the solution he was developing caused hairs on a pony-fur cloth to straighten instead. Intrigued, he tried it on a neighbor's dog, and when it straightened the hair on the dog's coat, Morgan finally tried the new solution on his own hair. The success of the solution led Morgan to form G. A. Morgan Refining Company, the first producers of hair refining cream.

Morgan experimented with new products throughout his life, inventing hat and belt fasteners and a friction drive clutch. His most significant invention, however, came in 1912, when he developed the "safety hood," a precursor to the modern-day gas mask. Morgan's patent application referred to it as a "Breathing Device." Granted a patent in 1914, the device, which consisted of a hood with an inlet for fresh air and an outlet for exhaled air, drew a number of awards, including the First Grand Prize from the Second International Exposition of Safety and Sanitation in New York City.

Although Morgan tested and demonstrated the use of the safety hood over the next few years, its most critical test occurred on July 24, 1916, during a tunnel explosion at the Cleveland Waterworks. The whole area was filled with noxious fumes and smoke, trapping workers in a tunnel under Lake Erie. Aided by his Breathing Device, Morgan went into the tunnel and carried workers out on his back, saving a number of men from an underground death.

Hair Care Products
While working with sewing machines, Morgan experimented with a liquid that polished sewing machine needles to prevent them from scorching fabric. Later, in 1905, he discovered that the liquid could also be used to straighten hair. This liquid was then made into a hair straightening cream.
He also invented a curved-tooth hair straightening comb as well as a black hair oil dye.

Smoke Hood
Garrett Morgan devised a safety hood smoke protection equipment which helped execute emergency respiration. He filed for a patent on the equipment in 1912 and later marketed it via his company, the National Safety Device Company.
Simple and effective, his gas mask earned a gold medal from the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
Traffic Signal
After witnessing a road accident, Morgan filed a patent for a three-position traffic signal in 1922. However, his invention was not the first ever traffic signal; several three-light systems having audible warnings were already in use at that time.

Self-extinguishing Cigarette
Morgan invented a self-extinguishing cigarette. The device employed a small plastic pellet with water placed right before the filter.
A Heroic Rescuer
Besides being a successful inventor, Garrett Morgan was also known for a heroic rescue operation he carried out in 1916 to save workers trapped in an underground tunnel 250 feet beneath Lake Erie. To rescue them, he used his patented smoke hood and also helped retrieve the bodies of those who didn’t survive.
Although the media and city officials ignored his act of heroism and issued medals to other men involved in the rescue, Morgan was later awarded a diamond-studded gold medal by some Cleveland citizens.

Achievement Rewarded

For this act of heroism, Morgan received the Carnegie Medal and a Medal of Bravery from the city, and the International Association of Fire Engineers made Morgan an honorary member. Not much later, Morgan established a company to manufacture and sell the Breathing Device in response to numerous orders from fire and police departments and mining industries. Fire fighters came to rely upon the gas mask in rescue attempts, and the invention helped save thousands from chlorine gas and other noxious fumes during World War I.

Next, Morgan created the three-way traffic signal, a device that saves lives to this day. The idea to build the warning and regulatory signal system came to him after he witnessed a carriage accident at a four-way street crossing. Once again, Morgan made sure to acquire a patent for his product, this time in Britain as well as the United States and Canada. Eventually, Morgan sold the rights to his invention to the General Electric Company for $40,000.

Service to Society

In addition to inventing new and unique products Morgan was actively involved in promoting the welfare of African Americans. In 1920, therefore, he began publishing the Cleveland Call, a newspaper devoted to publishing local and national black news. Additionally, Morgan served as an officer of the Cleveland Association of Colored Men, remaining an active member after it merged with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He developed glaucoma in 1943, losing most of his sight, and died in 1963.

His inventions have had a huge impact on the well-being of people all across the globe. Case Western University awarded Morgan an honorary degree.
The Garrett A. Morgan Water Treatment Plant and the Garrett A. Morgan Cleveland School of Science have been named after him.
In Prince George's County, Maryland, a street called Garrett A. Morgan Boulevard has been named in his honour.

Health Issues, Illness and Death Info

Morgan began developing glaucoma in 1943 and lost most of his sight as a result. The accomplished inventor died in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 27, 1963, shortly before the celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation centennial, an event he had been awaiting. 

 DEATHDAY 27 July,1963 (Saturday)
 DEATH PLACE Cleveland, Ohio
 DEATH COUNTRY United States

Further Reading on Garrett A. Morgan

Much has been written about Garrett Morgan, both regarding his achievements and his remarkable success as an African American scientist during the years of Jim Crow.

  • Haber, Louis, Black Pioneers of Science and Invention, Harcourt, 1970, pp. 61-72.
  • Sammons, Vivian Ovelton, Blacks in Science and Medicine, Hemisphere Publishing, 1990, p. 176.

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