Alexander Miles
  Elijah McCoy
  Lewis Latimer
  Jan Ernst Matzeliger
  Granville T. Woods
  George Washington Carver
  Madam C. J. Walker
Garrett Morgan
  Dr. Charles Richard Drew
  Otis Boykin
  James E. West
  Dr. Patricia Bath
  Lonnie G. Johnson
  Mark Dean

Famous African American Inventors

© Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, OH

Garrett Morgan


Morgan saved lives by inventing an early version of the gas mask and a new form of traffic signal.

Background: Morgan was born in Paris, Ky. As a teen, he moved to Ohio to find work. Several jobs at textile factories inspired his interest in machines and how they work. Morgan also opened a repair business.

Invention: In 1914, Morgan invented a "safety hood." It made polluted air more breathable. The invention was an early version of the gas masks later used in World War I to protect soldiers from poison gas.

Morgan's invention was famously put to use in 1916 in Cleveland, Ohio. A tunnel that was being drilled under Lake Erie collapsed, trapping 32 workers. Smoke and fumes prevented firemen from getting to the workers. Morgan and other men used his safety hood to reach the trapped men and rescue several survivors.

Did You Know? Morgan is also known for patenting a traffic signal in 1923. Around the turn of the century, cars, bicycles, horse-drawn vehicles, and pedestrians all had to share the road. It was often quite dangerous. Morgan's traffic signal was the first to feature three commands instead of two, which controlled traffic more effectively. He sold the patent rights to General Electric for $40,000, a huge sum at the time.