Garrett Augustus Morgan was a brilliant inventor and skilled businessman whose contributions have been instrumental in saving the lives of countless people over the last 100 years.
Born to former slaves on March 4, 1877 in Paris, Kentucky, Garrett Morgan only had the opportunity to achieve a sixth-grade education. Yet, in spite of this, his natural business savvy prompted him to move to Cleveland, Ohio at just 18 years old, where he worked tirelessly as a sewing machine repairman to make ends meet. His mechanical and technical skills sparked his interest in inventing, and ultimately made him hugely successful over the next decade, allowing him to become the first black man in Cleveland to own a car.
With his passion for inventing, Morgan worked to create inventions that would help communities and save lives. His first major invention was a gas mask, for which he received a patent in 1914, and which would be instrumental in savings the lives of dozens of men during the Lake Eerie disaster of 1916.
His second major invention was inspired after he witnessed a collision between a car and a horse-drawn carriage at an intersection. At the time, a version of the traffic light existed, but it only displayed the Stop and Go commands. With only two positions on the traffic light, intersections became confusing and chaotic when the signals were changing. Morgan decided to address the problem by inventing the three-position traffic light, which allowed vehicles and pedestrians to cross more safely. In 1923, General Electric purchased the patent for the three-position traffic light from Morgan for $40,000.
In addition to making travel safer for millions of Americans, Morgan worked to support his community in a number of other ways. He served as a member of the NAACP, established a newspaper for African Americans called The Cleveland Call and donated to all-black colleges, among other things.
Morgan continued to serve his community until his death in 1963.