Famous Inventor, 1877-1963

Historical Marker #1493 in Paris highlights the accomplishments of American inventor Garrett Augustus Morgan, who was born the son of former slaves on March 4, 1877.

Garrett Morgan grew up on the family farm while his father worked for the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. He was educated at segregated elementary schools in Paris, but never graduated from high school.

At age 16 he left home seeking work in Cincinnati, Ohio, but he soon left for Cleveland, Ohio to find work that provided a more promising future. He first secured a position in a sewing machine factory and with his inventive mind he learned the workings of the machine. He developed many attachments that made threading, winding, and re-winding the machines easier, and invented the belt used to run the sewing machine.

Morgan finally acquired his own sewing machine and shoe repair shop in 1907, where he discovered, and then manufactured, his formula for straightening hair under the trademark of G. A. Morgan Hair Straightening Cream. He also created a black hair oil dye and a curved-tooth iron comb to aid with the straightening of hair. Morgan added a tailoring shop which manufactured coats, suits, dresses, and other clothing. His business employed more than thirty workers.

Madge Nelson became his first wife in 1896, but they divorced. In 1908, he married again to Mary Anne Hassek, and they had three sons.

Morgan started his own newspaper to note the achievements of African Americans, named the "Cleveland Call." The newspaper later changed to the "Call & Post," which was printed throughout the twentieth century.

In 1912, Morgan invented the "Safety Hood," the forerunner of the gas mask, for which he was granted a patent in 1914. With this device he was able to assist with the recovery of men trapped in a tunnel of the Cleveland Waterworks, 250 feet below Lake Erie. He received a gold medal from the Second International Exposition of Sanitation and Safety for the invention. The National Safety Device Company was established to manufacture and market the gas mask which was widely used in World War I.

While watching the movement of traffic in Cleveland Morgan conceived the idea of his best known invention, the tri-color traffic signal. It regulated movement of vehicles with its stop, wait, and go concept. In November 1923, he received a patent for his traffic signal. He promptly sold the rights to General Electric Corporation for its manufacture.

Morgan developed glaucoma in 1943, which left him nearly blind. He died in Cleveland on July 27, 1963, and was buried there in Lake View Cemetery.

Images

Garrett Morgan

Garrett Morgan

Garret Morgan was born in Paris, Kentucky in 1877, but moved to Ohio as a young man. Image in the public domain. View File Details Page

Traffic Signal

Traffic Signal

One of Morgan's most famous inventions was the traffic signal. Image in the pubic domain. View File Details Page

Gas Mask

Gas Mask

Garrett Morgan's invention of the gas mask has saved thousands of lives. Courtesy of Hopewell Museum. View File Details Page

Morgan's Hair Products

Morgan's Hair Products

Shown here is an advertisement for Garrett Morgan's hair straightening comb. Image in the public domain. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Hopewell Museum, “Famous Inventor, 1877-1963,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed July 22, 2017, http://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/435.

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