Garrett Morgan, inventor of many mod¬ em life savers, including the gas mask and the three-way stoplight, was bom in Paris, Kentucky, on a farm that he left at the age of 14. From Kentucky he headed north to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he found work as a handyman. He stayed in Cincinnati for six years, working with a tutor to improve his grammar, and moved on to Cleveland in 1895.
In Cleveland, Morgan began to focus on the building of businesses. He took a job as a sewing machine adjuster, but only long enough to learn the business and open his own sewing machine repair shop. His next venture, a tailor shop, eventually grew to employ 32 workers.
Through trying to improve business, Morgan came across some of his finest inventions; While trying to formulate a pol¬ ish for sewing needles he discovered a way to straighten hair.; His new Morgan Hair Refining Company became a huge financial success.
It’s been said that since he was the first man in Cincinnati to own his own car, it’s possibly no surprise that he was also the first to invent the three-way stoplight/These inventions, though financially rewarding, were not equal to the one he per¬ fected in 1916, the one that saved thousands of lives — the gas mask, On July 25, Mor¬ gan was summoned for what became the most important trial mn for this new inven¬ tion.
As 32 workers lay buried in a tunnel below Lake Erie, where a huge explosion had trapped them in a cell with poison gas, Morgan, his brother Frank, and two volun¬ teers donned the masks that had won Mor¬ gan the grand prize at the New York Safety and Sanitation Fair.
Believing they had a 20 minute air sup¬ ply, Morgan and his fellows went into the tunnel, found the unconscious workers of the Cleveland Waterworks Company, and pulled them one by one to their families and associates waiting breathlessly outside the tunnel.
Immediately, every fire department in the country was placing orders for Mor¬ gan’s gas masks, until it was discovered that Morgan himself was black. When orders slowed down, Morgan hired a white man to demonstrate the device as if he were the inventor while Morgan assisted.
In 1917, when the United States entered World War I, it was Morgan’s improved gas masks that protected the American sol¬ diers from the enemy’s poisonous chemical weapons.
Though racist attitudes never managed to defeat him, Morgan was dedicated to the idea that African-Americans should no longer be forced to endure them. He joined the NAACP, founded the Cleveland Call newspaper to improve reporting on African- American issues, and ran for Cleveland’s City Council in 1931/ Though he did not win, he became another symbol of the grow¬ ing success of African-Americans.