Garrett Morgan: An Uncommon Inventor

February 21, 2010

A Documentary Film by Stinson McClendon
Presentation following the film by the inventor's granddaughter

Garrett Morgan, inventor
Garrett Morgan

Garrett Augustus Morgan, Sr. was an African American inventor who developed several commercial products, the successors of which are still in use today, making life safer and more convenient. Among his creations was the three-position traffic signal, a traffic management device, and the gas mask. His creative spirit also led him to invent such things as a fastener for women's hats, an electric curling comb, the friction drive clutch, and a special pellet that when inserted into a cigarette would extinguish it if the smoker fell asleep.

The Three-Position Traffic Signal
Bicycles, animal-powered carts and motor vehicles once shared the same thoroughfares resulting in frequent accidents. After witnessing a collision between an automobile and a horse-drawn carriage, Morgan was convinced that something should be done to improve traffic safety. Garrett A. Morgan was the first to apply for and acquire a U.S. patent for such a device. It was granted on November 20, 1923. Later it was also patented in Great Britain and Canada. The Morgan traffic signal was a T-shaped pole unit that featured three positions: Stop, Go, and an all-directional stop position. The third position halted traffic in all directions, allowing pedestrians to cross more safely. He eventually sold the rights to his traffic signal to the General Electric Corporation.

The Gas Mask
In 1912, Morgan received a patent on a Safety Hood and Smoke Protector. Two years later, a refined model of his early gas mask won a gold medal at the International Exposition of Sanitation and Safety, and another gold medal from the International Association of Fire Chiefs. In 1916, Morgan made national news for using his gas mask to rescue several men trapped in a tunnel beneath Lake Erie, resulting in requests for assistance from fire departments nationwide. His device was refined for use by U.S. soldiers during World War I.

Free and open to the public, February 21, 2010, 3:00 pm, at Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, 1515 SE Monroe Street, Topeka, Kansas, 66612.

To RSVP by February 19, call the Brown Foundation at (785) 235-3939 or send an email by clicking here.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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