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Garrett Morgan Traffic Signal
Inventor Garrett Augustus Morgan  (pictured) was responsible for a host of inventions, but he was most-known for inventing the gas mask, laying the groundwork for automobile traffic signals, and even creating a hair-straightening technique. Along with inventions, Morgan was also a co-founder of a Cleveland newspaper and is credited for saving the lives of firemen with his gas mask invention as well. Morgan was born on this day in 1877, and his amazing story began in the rural South.

SEE ALSO: Muhammad Ali Wins 1st World Heavyweight Championship On This Day In 1964

Born in the small town of Paris, Ky., Morgan was born to former slave parents. His father fought for the Confederates, achieving the rank of Colonel. At the age of 14, Morgan moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, to find work and became an adept handyman in the town. Initially forgoing his education for employment, Morgan was able to earn enough money to hire a tutor and finish his school studies. After moving to Cleveland, Morgan worked for a clothing manufacturer as a sewing machine repairman. In 1907, Morgan opened a sewing machine and shoe repair shop, which was the first of several businesses he would go on to own.

In 1909, Morgan expanded his business by adding a tailor shop and came across a unique discovery: After experimenting with a liquid that gave sewing needles shine and prevented fabric from being burned, Morgan accidentally found it also straightened hair. Turning this liquid into a cream, he created the G. A. Morgan Hair Refining Company. Morgan also made a black hair oil dye and a curved-tooth iron comb to go along with the hair cream product.

Morgan’s observant nature led him to invent the “safety hood” or protective respiratory hood that firefighters use today to combat blazes.

Morgan was led to invent the gas mask equipment after hearing about fire in a factory. Using a wet sponge inside the mask to filter out smoke and cool the air, Morgan sold the device nationwide but sometimes had to resort to hiring a White man to play the salesman or Morgan, himself, would pretend to be an Indian chief because of the high-level of racism at the time.

A 1916 tunnel explosion under Lake Erie gave Morgan’s gas mask invention its nationwide fame after he and three other men rescued workers using the device. Amazingly, Cleveland news outlets and elected officials were reluctant to recognize the heroic acts of Morgan until years later. Morgan was later awarded for his bravery by both the city of Cleveland and the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

Noticing the upswing in pedestrian traffic and automobile use, Morgan would patent a manual use traffic signal and reportedly sold off the rights to the device to General Electrics for $40,000.

Records proving that the transaction took place have never been produced, however, but many historians note that Morgan may have inspired the new automated signals as a result of his invention.

Another little-discussed portion of Morgan’s historic achievements is his co-founding the Cleveland Call newspaper in 1916. In 1928, he participated in a merger that led to the start of the still-active African-American newspaper Call And Post, which is now owned by boxing promoter Don King.

Learn more about Morgan here:

Working up until his death in 1963, Morgan feverishly continued to find new inventions including a self-extinguishing cigarette. Morgan would pass way on July 27 at age 86.  In the predominately Black county of Prince George’s County in Maryland, Morgan’s name was immortalized after an entire boulevard was named after him.

In his resting place of Cleveland, Morgan’s name is emblazoned on the Garrett A. Morgan Cleveland School of Science. Known as one of the greatest Black inventors of all time, Morgan’s work in the field of science, research, and business are a wonderful point of study for students young and old.

Happy Birthday and Rest in Powerful Peace to Garrett A. Morgan!

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