Garrett Augustus Morgan, Sr., African American Inventor   Leave a comment


Garrett Augustus Morgan, Sr. (March 4 1877 – August 27, 1963) was an inventor who invented a type of respiratory protective hood (conceptually similar to modern gas masks), a type of traffic signal, and a hair-straightening preparation. He is renowned for a heroic rescue in which he used his hood to save workers trapped in a tunnel system filled with fumes. He is credited as the first African-American in Cleveland to own an automobile.[1]

  Safety hood

Newspaper photograph of Morgan’s rescue in 1916

Garrett Morgan patented a safety hood and smoke protector after seeing firefighters struggling from the smoke they encountered in the line of duty[2] and hearing about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.[citation needed] His device used a wet sponge to filter out smoke and cool the air.[3] He was able to sell his invention around the country, sometimes using the tactic of having a hired white actor take credit rather than revealing himself as its inventor.[2] For demonstrations of the device, he sometimes adopted the disguise of “Big Chief Mason”, a purported full-blooded Indian from the Walpole Island Indian Reservation in Canada.”[4] His invention became known nationally when he and three other men used it to save several men after a 1916 tunnel explosion under Lake Erie.[5] Cleveland’s newspapers and city officials initially ignored Morgan’s personal acts of heroism as the first to rush into the tunnel for the rescue, and it took years for the city to recognize his contributions.[2] Eventually, Morgan was awarded a gold Medal of Bravery by prominent citizens of Cleveland and a gold medal for bravery from the International Association of Fire Chiefs.[5]

Morgan’s invention of the safety hood was featured on the television show “Inventions that Shook the World”.[6]

[edit] Traffic signal

See also: Traffic signal#History

Patent drawing of Morgan’s signal

The first American-made automobiles were introduced to consumers just before the turn of the 20th Century, and pedestrians, bicycles, animal-drawn wagons and motor vehicles all had to share the same roads. Between 1913 and 1921, a number of versions of traffic signaling devices, both mechanical and automated, were patented by various inventors. Of these, only a few saw production or implementation on public roads. Morgan’s device, first patented in 1923, was a hand-cranked, manually operated mechanical semaphore signal.[5] His device had two key safety features: having an intermediate “all stop” signal state to give moving traffic time to stop before signaling cross traffic to proceed, and having a “half mast” position to indicate general caution at times when the device operator was not present.[5]

There is no evidence to support the claim that Morgan’s traffic signal was ever put into service[7][not in citation given]; Despite claims on various websites[8][9][10][11][12] as well as in print[13][14] that Morgan’s invention was used “throughout North America,” the absence of his signal in 1920’s photographs and news articles suggests that it was not installed in large numbers, if at all. Notably, it did not merit a single mention in the book-length historical study by Gordon M. Sessions[15], which covers a wide variety of devices in tracing the development of traffic control devices throughout history.

Many of these sources also claim that the patent rights for Morgan’s designs were sold at about that time to General Electric(GE) for $40,000. However, no record of this transaction appears either in the U.S. patent assignment records at the National Archives, the GE historical business records at the Schenectady Museum in New York, or in Morgan’s own legal and business papers at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland. Advertisements and photos from the 1920s indicate that GE’s early traffic signal products were of the more modern electric variety, not manually operated semaphores. Several GE patent acquisitions from the early-to-mid 1920s[16][17][18][19]show that the company was investing heavily in solid-state electronic circuitry and automated traffic signaling devices during that time. By the end of 1926, GE had begun experimenting with traffic-controlled systems[20] (as opposed to timer-controlled devices); It is highly implausible that GE would consider investing $40,000 (over $500,000 USD inflation-adjusted to 2011) in a manual, crank-driven signaling device during an era when the company was researching, developing and producing solid-state analog circuitry and actively implementing these technologies into their signals.

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Posted February 16, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Scientists / Innovator

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