- NAME: Garrett Morgan
- OCCUPATION: Entrepreneur, Inventor, Publisher
- BIRTH DATE: March 04, 1877
- DEATH DATE: August 27, 1963
- Did You Know?: In 1914, Garrett Morgan patented a breathing device in the form of a canvas hood—a precursor to the modern gas mask.
- Did You Know?: Garrett Morgan invented the first automatic three-way traffic signal system, which he eventually sold to General Electric.
- Did You Know?: Garrett Morgan was the first black man in Cleveland, Ohio, to own a car.
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Paris, Kentucky
- PLACE OF DEATH: Cleveland, Ohio
- AKA: Garrett Augustus Morgan
- Full Name: Garrett Augustus Morgan Sr.
- AKA: Garrett Morgan
- Nickname: "Big Chief Mason"
- AKA: Garrett A. Morgan
Best Known For
Garrett Morgan blazed a trail for African-American inventors with his many patents, including those for a hair-straightening product, a breathing device, a revamped sewing machine and an improved traffic signal.
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With only an elementary school education, Garrett Morgan, born in Kentucky on March 4, 1877, began his career as a sewing-machine mechanic. He went on to patent several inventions, including an improved sewing machine and traffic signal, a hair-straightening product, and a respiratory device that would later provide the blueprint for WWI gas masks. The inventor died on August 27, 1963, in Cleveland, Ohio.
Born in Paris, Kentucky, on March 4, 1877, Garrett Morgan was the seventh of 11 children. His mother, Elizabeth (Reed) Morgan, was of Indian and African descent, and the daughter of a Baptist minister. It is uncertain whether Morgan's father was Confederate Colonel John Hunt Morgan or Sydney Morgan, a former slave freed in 1863. Morgan's mixed race heritage would play a part in his business dealings as an adult.
When Morgan was in his mid teens, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, to look for work, and found it as a handyman to a wealthy landowner. Although he only completed an elementary school education, Morgan was able to pay for more lessons from a private tutor. But jobs at several sewing-machine factories were to soon capture his imagination and determine his future. Learning the inner workings of the machines and how to fix them, Morgan obtained a patent for an improved sewing machine and opened his own repair business.
Morgan's business was a success, and it enabled him to marry a Bavarian woman named Mary Anne Hassek, and establish himself in Cleveland. (He and his wife would have three sons during their marriage.)
Following the momentum of his business success, Morgan's patented sewing machine would soon pave the way to his financial freedom, albeit in a rather unorthodox way: In 1909, Morgan was working with sewing machines in his newly opened tailoring shop—a business he had opened with wife Mary, who had experience as a seamstress—when he encountered woolen fabric that had been scorched by a sewing-machine needle. It was a common problem at the time, since sewing-machine needles ran at such high speeds. In hopes of alleviating the problem, Morgan experimented with a chemical solution in an effort to reduce friction created by the needle, and subsequently noticed that the hairs of the cloth were straighter.
After trying his solution to good effect on a neighboring dog's fur, Morgan finally tested the concoction on himself. When that worked, he quickly established the G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Company and sold the cream to African Americans. The company was incredibly successful, bringing Morgan financial security and allowing him to pursue other interests.
In 1914, Morgan patented a breathing device, or "safety hood," providing its wearers with a safer breathing experience in the presence of smoke, gases and other pollutants. Morgan worked hard to market the device, especially to fire departments, often personally demonstrating its reliability in fires. Morgan's breathing device became the prototype and precursor for the gas masks used during World War I, protecting soldiers from toxic gas used in warfare.
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