Garrett Augustus Morgan (1877 - 1963) was an American inventor whose
curiosity and innovation led him to develop several commercial products, many of
which are still in use today. Morgan is probably best known for inventing the
gas mask and the traffic light. The son of former slaves, Morgan was born in
Paris, Kentucky on March 4, 1877. His early childhood was spent attending school
and working with his brothers and sisters on the family farm. Morgan’s formal
education ended after elementary school. While still a teenager, he left
Kentucky moving north to Cincinnati, Ohio in search of employment. When he was
37, Morgan invented the gas mask, which was patented in 1914, and was used by
the United States Army during World War I. In 1920, he started the Cleveland
Call newspaper. Morgan became a successful and widely respected businessman.
This prosperity enabled him to purchase a home and an automobile. Morgan’s
experiences driving through the streets of Cleveland are what led him to invent
the nation’s first patented three-position traffic signal. Morgan was the first
to apply for and acquire a U. S. patent for his three-position traffic signal
despite other inventors who were experimenting with and marketing their own
devices. The patent was granted on November 20, 1923. Morgan later had the
technology patented in Great Britain and Canada. This technology was the basis
for the modern-day traffic signal and was a significant contribution to the
development of what we now know as Intelligent Transportation Systems. Morgan’s
traffic management technology was used throughout North America until it was
replaced by the red, yellow and green light traffic signals currently used
around the world. Morgan eventually sold the rights for his traffic signal to
the General Electric Corporation for $40,000. Morgan was considered one of
America’s most prominent inventors. Shortly before his death, in 1963, Morgan
was awarded a citation for the traffic signal by the United States Government.
In 2005, Morgan was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron,
Ohio. Morgan’s original wooden prototype traffic signal is on public display at
Cleveland’s African American Museum along with one of the three original Safety
Hoods still in existence. Morgan died August 27, 1963. He was 86 years old.
Click to view or download the poster.