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Garrettt Morgan, Gas Mask and Traffic Signal Inventor
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1913 advertisement for Morgan’s National Safety Hood protective breathing device


1913 advertisement for Morgan’s National Safety Hood protective breathing device



More Photography:


Detail of patent drawing for Morgan’s traffic signal, 1923
Detail of patent drawing for Morgan’s traffic signal, 1923


Another detail of patent drawing for Morgan’s traffic signal
Another detail of patent drawing for Morgan’s traffic signal


Formal portrait photo of Morgan and his two eldestg sons in 1920
Formal portrait photo of Morgan and his two eldest sons in 1920









Morgan’s Inventions

His passion for experimenting with gadgets landed him a job repairing sewing machines. Morgan’s first invention made the machines more efficient and prolonged their lives. Eventually, he owned a sewing-machine and clothing manufacturing company.

In 1911, after reading about a clothing-factory fire that killed 146 people, Morgan invented a breathing device, called the safety hood, that cooled incoming air and filtered out smoke. This was an early version of the modern-day gas mask.

Five years later, Morgan made national news after using his safety hood to rescue workers trapped in a tunnel explosion under Lake Erie.

“Some of these things just came from closing his eyes and using his imagination.”
--Eloise Nuttall, Garrett Morgan’s niece, speaking about her uncle’s innovations

Morgan got an idea for another lifesaving invention after he saw a horse-drawn carriage collide with a car at a busy intersection. Before Morgan’s device was introduced, traffic signals only had two positions: stop and go. Morgan’s invention included a third sign, a caution to warn drivers to slow down. His creation was the forerunner of today’s electric traffic signals.

Garrett Morgan was constantly experimenting with new ideas. Though the traffic signal came at the height of his career and became one of his most famous inventions, it was just one of several items he devised and sold over the years.

One day, while tinkering in his workshop, Morgan discovered that some of the chemicals used in his sewing-machine repair business also relaxed the tight curl pattern of a wool cloth he was using. So he developed one of the earliest hair straighteners and other hair products. Poor health and advancing age didn’t subdue Morgan’s innate desire to invent things that would make people’s lives safer. At 84 he devised a self-extinguishing cigarette filter to help prevent fires.

Next: Continue to next section, “Recognize the Unusual”›





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