So, its 1920, 152 years after the first automobile capable of carrying passengers was ever invented, but only 12 years after the famous Model T Ford, and six years after the first traffic light. So, you’re driving when you pull up to a traffic light. Now remember, at this point there were only red and green colors on the light, so it went from red, to green, to red, and so on.
You pull up and stop at the red light when suddenly, the light turns green, the other side’s car doesn’t notice and is midway through the intersection when you drive through the intersection, the other car comes and tailbones you. Would have been great if there was a way to warn green light drivers when the red light is coming up, yeah? Fast forward three years. BOOM! Now there is a yellow light that warns people to slow down before the light turns red only three to five seconds before the light turns red.
Now, if Garrett Morgan wouldn’t have invented the yellow traffic light, with these 160 mphs tops cars, and 40 to 60 mph speed limits, these scenarios could happen much more often, and could be more deadly. Garrett Morgan didn’t just invent the yellow light though, he has invented/improved much more things such as inventing the gas mask, revamping the sewing machine, and creating a pellet to where if a smoker fell asleep, the cigarette would auto-extinguish. So with these marvelous inventions, Garrett Morgan has become a star when it comes to African-American inventors.
Garrett Augustus Morgan was born on March 4th, 1877. Morgan was born in Paris, Kentucky to the parents of Elizabeth Reed and Sydney Morgan. Morgan had ten siblings and was the seventh oldest. His mom was born of an Indian and African descent in which her father was a minister. Morgan’s dad however, was the son of a confederate colonel. Morgan’s parents were freed from slavery just 14 years before having Garrett in early 1863 after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Garrett only had an elementary school education due to being black, but that did not stop his him from chasing his dreams.
Morgan moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in his mid-teens hoping to find work, in which he did. Morgan was able to work as an odd-jobber for a prosperous proprietor. Surprisingly (because of his finite school knowledge and African-American identity) he was able to afford a private mentor for more lessons. But, later, duties for sewing machines factories snatched his attention. He started working as a sewing machine fixer. He would later on start his own repair shop called the G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Company.
His wife, Mary Anne Hassek was a seamstress (a woman who sews), and worked with him. His Hair Refining Company helped him make his chemical solution to create straighter hair. He first tried it on his neighbor’s dog’s fur and the result was marvelous. He later tried it on his own hair and that followed as planned too. He only sold this product to African-Americans.
In 1914, Morgan patented his new safety hood. The safety hood was basically a breathing device that would soon be known as the gas mask. This invention would also become the prototype in World War I for the gas mask. At this moment though, no one knew who the real inventor was. Morgan hired a white actor to pose as the inventor so that people would buy it from “him.” People knew who Morgan was, they just didn’t know that he was the real inventor. Morgan and his actor has it planned to where Morgan just happened to be a Native American sidekick for a white male “inventor” named “Big Chief Mason.” This tactic surprisingly worked and fire fighters bought them like it was the new iPhone of back then.
In 1916, Cleveland was constructing a tunnel underneath Lake Erie to get fresh water when all of a sudden, they hit a pocket of natural gas which caused a huge combustion and caused a lot of attention. Well, Garrett Morgan later found out and him and his brother rushed to the scene like they were on fire. And with a chance to advertise his gas mask invention, they took the gas masks and tried to save as many lives as physically possible. Morgan and his brother were able to save two lives and recover
four more. Now you would think that with this heroic effort, they (Morgan and his brother) would get a medal or some sort of award for saving lives, but during the rescue, Morgan was exposed and everyone now knew that he was African-American. This exposure caused a huge backfire and made it harder for him to sale. Everyone now knew that there was no “Big Chief Mason.” That there was no Native American, and that the white guy didn’t create the gas mask. But this did not stop Morgan as he once said, “If you can be the best, then why not try to be the best.”
Because of the public not giving him any acknowledgement for his heroic efforts at the explosion, he later started to make hats, belt fasteners and car parts. Then, similar to the first example he noticed that back then, automobiles shared roads with horse carriages, and a lot of the times, they would crash together which is more dangerous since the car would either hit the horse, the human, or both. Morgan knew this and wanted to put a stop to it. He filed a patent application to make a yellow
light for the intersections. Although J.P Knight created the traffic light only nine years before he was born (1868), he wanted to create the yellow light and he got U.S. patent (No. 1,475,024) on November 20, 1923, but because of his ethnicity, he sold it for $40,000 to General Electric in 1923, which was actually a lot back then, $587,679.53 in 2019. (CPI Inflation Calculator 2019)
When Morgan was in his mid-sixties, he developed glaucoma. Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that could lead to blindness. Because of this condition, he lost most of his eyesight and stopped inventing. Also because he was black, life was hard back then and inventing was impressive with all the struggles that happen while being black. Just before his death in 1963, he was awarded with his traffic light invention. He died in 1963, possibly due to exposure during making inventions without his gas mask on and his wife died in five years later in 1968.
Morgan had a great life and invented so many things that we use that would be a pain in the but without. But he has managed to surpass the fact that he is black in the early 1900s and had succeed his dream. He has worked through so many difficulties such as hiring a cover-up. He had to not just invent the product, but also invent ways to market the product without revealing his identity. He was rewarded with trophies after he died for his inventions. Overall, Garrett Augustus Morgan was an amazing inventor that helped him become one of the best African American inventors.