Official Webby Honoree for Blog/Cultural
Official Webby Honoree for both Education

Garrett Morgan

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Invented a traffic signal, the first human hair straightener, and the precursor to the gas mask that he then used to save lives in a tunnel explosion. Busy guy.

Born 1877, Paris, Kentucky. With the only formal education on record as elementary school, Morgan got his start in innovation with sewing machine repair. As a young man he would obtain his first patent for an improved sewing machine and establish a repair shop.

In 1909, Morgan would come across for a solution straightening hair while working in his repair shop. Wool fabric was being scorched by the fast speeds of the sewing needle, so he produced a chemical solution reduce the friction and found it made the threads straighter. After doing rounds of test on himself and his dog (poor fella hope he got some treats) Morgan was able to successfully market the product to a receptive Black crowd. He established the G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Company made quite the financial success out of it; this let him focus on pursuing other projects.

In 1914, Morgan would invent a “safety hood” which helped to protect the user from harmful environmental pollutants, smoke, and gases. This safety device was the precursor the the gas mask, and soldiers from WWI would be equipped with utilized technology based on his designs. Morgan would market this primarily to fire departments and similar organizations, but hired a white actor to play as the inventor and pose as his sidekick “Big Chief Mason” to help sales in the south and avoid racial tension/resistance. In 1916, the device would become famous when Morgan and 3 other people were first on the scene to help rescue workers from a tunnel explosion at Lake Erie in Cleveland. Morgan, his brother, and another person reliably used the gas masks to rescue 2 and recover 4 bodies.

Ironically, after people realized he was the man behind the invention, sales began to hurt due to the discovery of his race. Also, Morgan and his brother were for the most part left out the credits for the rescue effort from the press. Some papers even credited other people entirely.

That didn’t keep him down though. In 1923, after witnessing a horrifying horse-carriage related accident, Morgan would also patent a hand-cranked 3 way traffic signal; this signal accommodated cars, bicycles, and animal drawn carriages, a common occurrence during this time.

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Biography.com

Filed Under: Garrett Morgan technology tech science history culture black history american history inventors gas mask traffic m

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