Garrett Augustus Morgan
March 4, 1877|
|Died||July 27, 1963
|Other names||Big Chief Mason|
|Known for||Inventor of a type of traffic signal and a respiratory protective hood|
Garrett Augustus Morgan, Sr. (March 4, 1877 – July 27, 1963) was an African-American inventor and community leader. His most notable inventions included a respiratory hood to protect against smoke and a semaphore, a type of traffic signal which used hands controlled by a person in a booth to direct traffic. Another invention he worked on was the development of a chemical for hair-straightening. He was the subject of a newspaper expose in Cleveland, Ohio, for a heroic rescue in 1916 of workers trapped within a water intake tunnel, 50 ft (15 m) beneath Lake Erie. He performed his rescue using a hood fashioned to protect his eyes from smoke and featuring a series of air tubes that hung near the ground to draw clean air beneath the rising smoke. By using this simple principle of heat, it allowed Morgan lengthen his ability to endure the inhospitable conditions of a smoke-filled room. Morgan is also credited as the first African American in Cleveland to own an automobile.
Morgan was born in Claysville, an African-American community outside of Paris, Kentucky, to Sydney Morgan, a son and former slave of Confederate Colonel John H. Morgan (of Morgan's Raiders fame), and Eliza Reed, also a former slave who was half American Indian and daughter of Rev. Garrett Reed. He had at least one sibling, a brother Frank, who assisted in the 1916 Lake Erie tunnel rescue.
Most of his teenage years were spent working as a handyman for a Cincinnati landowner. Like many American children growing up in the turn of the century, Morgan had to quit school at a young age in order to work full-time. Morgan was privileged enough to hire a tutor and continue his studies while working in Cincinnati. In 1895, he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he began repairing sewing machines for a clothing manufacturer. Much like fellow inventor Henry Ford who became curious about cars after working as a young man in a factory that built engines, this experience with repairing sewing machines was the impetus for Morgan's interest in how things work. His first invention, developed during this period, was a belt fastener for sewing machines. Throughout this before his first patent in 1912 he was slowly building his reputation in Cleveland for his skill at fixing things.
In 1907 Morgan, who had nearly a decade of experience with sewing machines, finally opened up his own sewing machine and shoe repair shop. It was the first of several businesses he would own. In 1908, Morgan became more conscious of his heritage and helped found the Cleveland Association of Colored Men. In 1909, he and his wife Mary Anne expanded their business ventures by opening a shop called Morgan's Cut Rate Ladies Clothing Store. The shop had 32 employees, and made coats, suits, dresses, and other clothing.
Circa 1910 his interest in repairing other people's inventions waned, and he became interested in developing some of his own. The smoke hood was completed circa 1912. He received his patent for it that year as well. The successful invention of the smoke hood precipitated the launch of the National Safety Device Company in 1914. It is unknown if the smoke hood brought him any commercial success. No sales figures have been found but his use of guerrilla marketing, going to different venues and demonstrating his smoke hood by strapping it on and entering a smoke filled teepee, certainly demonstrated his faith in his own invention. In 1913 he incorporated hair care products into his growing list of patents and launched the G. A. Morgan Hair Refining Company, which sold hair care products, including his patented hair straightening cream, a hair dye, and a hair straightening comb invented by Morgan.
Later in life he developed glaucoma and by 1943 was functionally blind. He would have poor health the rest of his life. Even so, in ill-health, and nearly blind, he continued to work on his inventions; one of his last was a self-extinguishing cigarette, which employed a small plastic pellet filled with water, placed just before the filter. He died on July 27, 1963, at the age of 86, and is buried at Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland.
Products and inventions
Hair care products
Morgan experimented with a liquid that gave sewing machine needles a high polish that prevented the needle from scorching fabric as it sewed. In 1905, Morgan accidentally discovered that the liquid could also straighten hair. He made the liquid into a cream and launched the G. A. Morgan Hair Refining Company to market it. He also made a black hair oil dye and invented a curved-tooth comb for hair straightening in 1910.
Garrett Morgan invented a safety hood smoke protection device after seeing firefighters struggling from the smoke they encountered in the line of duty. His device used a wet sponge to filter out smoke and cool the air. It also took advantage of the way smoke and fumes tend to rise to higher positions while leaving a layer of more breathable air below, by using an air intake tube that dangled near the floor. He filed for a patent on the device in 1912, and founded a company called the National Safety Device Company in 1914 to market it. 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. For demonstrations of the device, he sometimes adopted the disguise of "Big Chief Mason", a purported full-blooded Indian from the Walpole Island Indian Reserve in Canada. He would demonstrate the device by building a noxious fire fueled by tar, sulfur, formaldehyde and manure inside an enclosed tent. Disguised as Big Chief Mason, he would enter the tent full of black smoke, and would remain there for 20 minutes before emerging unharmed.
His safety hood device was simple and effective, whereas the other type devices in use at the time were generally difficult to put on, excessively complex, unreliable, or ineffective. His safety hood was used to save many lives during the period of its use.
His invention became known nationally when he led a rescue that saved several men's lives after a 1916 tunnel explosion under Lake Erie. Before Morgan arrived, two previous rescue attempts had failed. The attempted rescuers had become victims themselves by entering the tunnel and not returning. Morgan was roused in the middle of the night after one of the members of the rescue team who had seen a demonstration of his device sent a messenger to convince him to come and to bring as many of his hoods as he could. He arrived on the scene still wearing his pajamas, and brought his brother Frank and four of the hoods with him. Most of the rescuers on the scene were initially skeptical of his device, so he and his brother personally went into the tunnel along with two other volunteers, and succeeded in pulling out two men from the previous rescue attempts. He emerged carrying a victim on his back, and his brother followed just behind with another. Others joined in after his team succeeded, and rescued several more. His device was also used to retrieve the bodies of the victims that did not survive. Morgan personally made four trips into the tunnel during the rescue, and his health was affected for years afterward from the fumes he encountered there. Cleveland's newspapers and city officials initially ignored Morgan's act of heroism as the first to rush into the tunnel for the rescue and his key role as the provider of the equipment that made the rescue possible, and it took years for the city to recognize his contributions. City officials requested the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission to issue medals to several of the men involved in the rescue, but excluded Morgan from their request. He believed that the omission was racially motivated. Later, in 1917, a group citizens of Cleveland tried to correct for the omission by presenting him with a diamond-studded gold medal.
Morgan's invention of the safety hood was featured on the television show Inventions that Shook the World. and Mysteries at the Museum S08E05
Perhaps the biggest misconception about his safety hood was that it was a gas mask. It was not and neither was it forerunner for any type of gas mask. As a man of science if Garrett Morgan where alive today he would be the first to point out how this would be impossible. The safety hood used a series of tubes to draw clean air off the lowest level the tubes could extend to. Smoke, being hotter than the air around it, rises, and by drawing air from the ground the Safety Hood provided the user with a way to perform emergency respiration. If gas is not heated it is often denser than air around it and will sink to the lowest level it can. Against gas the smoke-hood would offer no protection and would actually facilitate the inhalation of gas rather than protect against it.
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. To deal with the growing problem of traffic accidents, a number of versions of traffic signaling devices began to be developed, starting around 1913.
Morgan had witnessed a serious accident at an intersection, and he tried to get a patent for traffic control device that used a man in a booth turning cranks to produce a "stop" or "go" flag. He applied for a patent on it in 1922 but his Semaphore never hit the prototype stage. The most likely reason for this was that semaphores in 1922 were outdated. Cities in American and Europe were investing heavily in electric traffic lights for their infrastructure. His idea for a hand-cranked mechanical sign system using signs that could be switched relatively easily by a traffic control officer  would necessitate that a city employ a person to run every signal it installed at all hours of the day. This was impractical, unaffordable and with modern electric traffic lights in production at the same time, unnecessary. Had it ever been produced or used anywhere it would have featured the addition of an "all stop" signal that could be used to clear the intersection to allow pedestrians to cross or to stop cross-traffic before signaling a different direction to proceed. It also had a "half mast" warning position to indicate general caution at times when the device operator was not present. In addition to the signs, his imagined his device featuring lights and warning bells powered by a battery
In 1908, he helped found the Cleveland Association of Colored Men, a group founded to help improve economic and social conditions for the black community (which later merged with the NAACP). He also served as its treasurer. He was a member of the NAACP and donated money to Negro colleges.
Morgan was a member of the Prince Hall Freemason fraternal organization, a predominantly black Freemason group (Excelsior Lodge No. 11 of Cleveland, Ohio). He was a member of Antioch Baptist Church.
In 1931, motivated by his view that the city was not properly addressing the needs of the black community, he (unsuccessfully) ran for a seat on the Cleveland City Council as an independent candidate.
He married his first wife, Madge Nelson, in 1896, but that marriage ended in divorce. In 1908, he married his second wife, Mary Anne Hassek. Together they had three sons.
Awards and recognitions
In the Cleveland, Ohio area, the Garrett A. Morgan Cleveland School of Science and the Garret A. Morgan Water Treatment Plant have been named in his honor. An elementary school in Chicago was also named after him. In Prince George's County, Maryland, there is a street named Garrett A. Morgan Boulevard (formerly Summerfield Boulevard until 2002), and a Metro stop (Morgan Boulevard) named in his honor.
- "Many workmen killed in tunnel explosion". The Evening Independent (Volume IX) (St. Petersberg, Pinellas County, Florida). July 25, 1916. p. 1. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
- Who Made America? Pioneers: Garrett Augustus Morgan PBS.org.
- "Claysville and Other Neighborhoods (Paris, KY)". Notable Kentucky African Americans Database. University of Kentucky. Retrieved 27 May 2015.
- "Morgan, Garrett A.". The Encyclopedia of Cleveland. A joint effort by Case Western University and the Western Reserve Historical Society. 23 February 2005. Retrieved February 11, 2013.
- Bianco, David (1992). "Morgan, Garrett 1877-1963". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 27 May 2015.
- Cleveland Association of Colored Men, Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, Case Western Reserve University.
- Garrett Morgan, Cleveland Inventor, ClevelandAreaHistory.com
- Sisson, Mary (2008). "Garrett Morgan". In Cavendish, Marshall. Inventors and Inventions. Volume 4. pp. 1101–1107. ISBN 978-0-7614-7767-9. Retrieved 2013-10-01.
- Garrett Morgan, Black Inventor Museum.
- "Garrett A. Morgan". Engineering and Technology History Wiki. Retrieved 27 May 2015.
- Inventor of the Week: Garrett A. Morgan: The Safety Hood,[dead link] MIT, February 1997.
- Editors, Time-Life (1991). Inventive Genius. New York: Time-Life Books. p. 40. ASIN B003YEPS0Q. ISBN 0-8094-7699-1.
- "22 Men Killed Under Lake Fire" (On-Line Google News Archive). Lawrence Journal-World. Vol. LX (Lawrence, Kansas). July 25, 1916. p. 1. Retrieved October 1, 2013. Note: This source for the tunnel fire makes no mention of Morgan by name, save "The second [rescue expedition] saved one of first rescue expedition"
- "Inventions that Shook the World: The 1910s". Discovery Channel. Retrieved March 16, 2013.
- "Why does hot air rise and cold air stays at the bottom? Is it because they have different densities?". ScienceLine. University of California Santa Barbara. Retrieved 27 May 2015.
- "The Cleveland Call & Post". The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Case Western Reserve University. Retrieved 28 January 2015.
- Gray, David (2012). The History of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio F&AM 1971–2011: The Fabric of Freemasonry. Columbus, Ohio: Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio. p. 157. ISBN 978-0615632957.
- "Chicago Names School for Inventor Garrett A. Morgan". Jet. 31 May 1973. Retrieved 27 May 2015.
- Asante, Molefi Kete (2002), 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
- "Prominent Members of Alpha". Alpha Phi Alpha. Archived from the original on 5 October 2013. Retrieved 27 May 2015.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Garrett Morgan.|
- The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History - Waterworks Disasters
- Images from Morgan's patents
- Garrett A. Morgan at Find a Grave