Remembering Cleveland Inventor Garrett Morgan

By State Representative Kent Smith

This Black History Month let’s salute African American businessman and inventor, Garrett Morgan.  Morgan was born in Kentucky, but in 1895, at the age of 18, he moved to Cleveland.  While Morgan was not formally educated beyond the sixth grade, he was a mechanical genius with a savvy entrepreneurial spirit.  After working in the garment industry, Morgan opened his own shop on West 6th Street repairing and selling sewing machines.

In 1912, Morgan invented an early version of the gas mask called, at that time, the safety hood.  Morgan patented the device in 1914 and used it to help rescue workers in 1916 following the Cleveland Waterworks explosion which occurred under Lake Erie.  Newspapers described and praised the heroics, and this new technology that protected people from smoke inhalation.  Eventually, Morgan sold his safety hood to over 500 cities and the US Military.

The safety hood invention and sales brought Morgan some material wealth which allowed him to be the first African American in Cleveland to purchase a car.  This led to Morgan’s next great invention!

While driving, Morgan witnessed a terrible accident between an automobile and a horse-drawn buggy.  Morgan knew he needed to improve the two light traffic signal that was in use at the time.  Morgan added a third light – meant to be a cautionary signal between “stop” and “go.”  Again, his invention was embraced. In 1923, Morgan was able to sell his three light traffic signal to General Electric for $40,000.

Please drive safely this month and the next time you are able to safely navigate an intersection, remember African American Cleveland inventor Garrett Morgan.

State Representative Kent Smith represents Ohio’s 8th House District which includes Euclid, Beachwood, South Euclid, Richmond Heights, East Cleveland, Woodmere Village, and a little bit of the City of Cleveland.