Garrett Augustus Morgan - inventor who originated a respiratory protective hood (similar to the modern gas masks)
Garrett Augustus Morgan
(1877 – 1963) was an African American inventor who originated a respiratory protective hood (similar to the modern gas masks), invented a hair-straightening preparation, and patented a type of traffic signal. He is renowned for a heroic rescue in which he used his hood to save workers trapped in a tunnel system filled with fumes. He is credited as the first African-American in Cleveland to own an automobile.
Life and career
Garrett A. Morgan was born on March 4, 1877, in Paris, Kentucky, to former slaves Sydney Morgan and Elizabeth (Reed) Morgan. The seventh of eleven children, he spent his childhood attending school and working with his brothers and sisters on the family farm. When he was fourteen, he moved north to Cincinnati, Ohio, in search of employment.
Morgan spent most of his teenage years working as a handyman for a wealthy Cincinnati landowner. Like many African-Americans of his day, Morgan had to quit school at a young age, in order to work. However, the teen-aged Morgan hired his own tutor and continued his studies while living in Cincinnati.
In 1895, Morgan moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he worked as a sewing machine repairman for a clothing manufacturer. He married Madge Nelson in 1896, but the marriage ended in divorce. News of his skill at fixing things and experimenting spread quickly throughout Cleveland.
In 1907, Morgan opened his own sewing machine and repair shop. It was the first of several businesses he would own. In 1909, he expanded his business to include a tailoring shop. The company made coats, suits, dresses, etc. - all sewn with equipment that Morgan himself had made. Morgan experimented with a liquid that gave sewing machine needles a high polish and prevented the needle from scorching fabric, as it sewed. Accidentally, Morgan discovered that this liquid not only straightened fabric but also hair. He made the liquid into a cream and began the G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Company. Morgan also made a black hair oil dye and a curved-tooth Iron comb in 1910, to straighten hair.
In 1908, Morgan helped found the Cleveland Association of Colored Men. That same year, he married Mary Anne Hassek (1884-1968), and together they had three sons.
In 1920, Morgan moved into the newspaper business when he established The Cleveland Call. As the years passed, he became a prosperous and widely respected businessman, and he was able to purchase a home and an automobile.
Garret Morgan invented the safety hood and smoke protector after hearing about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. He was able to sell his invention around the country however, in many instances, he would have a white partner take credit as the inventor in order to further sell his product. His invention became known nationally when he used it to save several men from a tunnel explosion under Lake Erie. Garrett was awarded a gold Medal of Bravery by prominent citizens of Cleveland, but his nomination for the Carnegie Medal was denied, in large part because of his race. Efforts by Morgan and his supporters over the years to correct this injustice have not, so far, been successful. Nevertheless, Morgan's invention won gold medals from the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the International Exposition of Sanitation and Safety.
It has often been claimed that Morgan invented the first "gas mask", however, the first gas mask was invented by Scottish chemist John Stenhouse in 1854. A precursor to the "gas mask" had been invented by Lewis Haslett in 1847 and granted US Patent no. 6529 in 1859. Numerous other inventors, including, Charles Anthony Deane (1823), John Tyndall (1871), Samuel Barton (1874), George Neally (1877), Henry Fleuss (1878), before Morgan's invention that was patented in 1914 (US Patent numbers 1090936 and 1113675), but does not diminish Morgan's heroism in using his mask to rescue the men trapped in the tunnel explosion, which was undertaken at considerable personal risk.
Some claim that Morgan did not invent the first "gas mask", however, those references are usually in reference to the "respirator." Morgan invented the safety hood and later revised it, which was used to save trapped workers in the Lake Erie Crib Disaster of 1917. His safety hood eventually evolved to become a type of gas mask.
The Garrett Morgan traffic signal
Patent drawing of Morgan's signalIt was Morgan's experience while driving along the streets of Cleveland that led to his invention of a traffic signal device.
The first American-made automobiles were introduced to U.S. consumers not long after the turn of the century. It was not uncommon for bicycles, animal-powered wagons and new gasoline-powered motor vehicles to share the same streets and roadways with pedestrians. According to tradition, it was after witnessing a collision between an automobile and a horse-drawn carriage that Morgan became convinced that something should be done to improve automobile safety.
The Morgan traffic signal was a T-shaped pole unit that featured three hand-cranked positions: Stop, Go and an all-directional stop position. This third position halted traffic in all directions to allow pedestrians to cross streets more safely. Its one advantage over others of its type was the ability to operate it from a distance using a mechanical linkage. Morgan sold the rights to his traffic signal to the General Electric Corporation for $40,000.
Awards and recognitions
At the Emancipation Centennial Celebration in Chicago, Illinois in August, 1963, Morgan was nationally recognized. Although in ill-health, and nearly blind, he continued to work on his inventions; one of his last was a self-extinguishing cigarette, which employed a small plastic pellet filled with water, placed just before the filter. Shortly before his death, in 1963, Morgan was awarded a citation for his traffic signal by the United States Government.
In Prince George's County, Maryland, Garrett A. Morgan Boulevard and the adjacent Washington Metro's Morgan Boulevard Station are named in his honor. In 1991, the Division Avenue Water Works in Cleveland was renamed the Garrett Morgan Treatment Plant. Also in his honor is the Garrett A. Morgan Cleveland School of Science in Cleveland, Ohio.
Grave of Garrett A. MorganMorgan was an honorary member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek-letter organization established for African Americans.
Garrett A. Morgan, Sr. died on July 27, 1963, at the age of 86, and is buried at Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.
^ Encyclopedia of World Biography on Garrett A. Morgan
^ a b c d e f An American Inventor, Federal Highway Administration
^ Garrett A. Morgan; The Safety Hood (M.I.T.)
^ Morgan, gas mask
^ Garrett Morgan, Inventions
^ Guardian of the Public Safety: Garrett A. Morgan and the Lake Erie Crib Disaster, William M. King, The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 70, No. 1/2 (Winter - Spring, 1985), pp. 1-13
^ Science Museam, Garrett Morgan, gas mask
^ Garrett A. Morgan - Gas Mask and Traffic Signal
^ US01,475,024 (PDF version) (1923-11-20) G.A. Morgan Traffic Signal
Garrett A. Morgan: Affordable Gas Masks. PBS
Garrett Augustus Morgan (1877-1963) Gas Mask and Traffic Signal Inventor African Americans.com
The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History - Waterworks Disasters
Images from Morgan's patents
The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History - biography
Google Images concerning Garrett Morgan
Profile of Garrett Morgan - The Black Inventor Online Museum
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