Few people living today could imagine this modern world without such lifesaving devices as the gas mask or the streetlight, many people who fail to recognize the name of the great man who created them; Garrett A. Morgan.
Morgan was born in Paris, Kentucky in 1877. At the age of fourteen, the young Garrett left home to find work up north in the city of Cincinnati to the city of Cleveland, which would become his home. He soon opened up his own business; a sewing machine retail and repair shop. this was the inspiration behind his first invention; the gas inhaler.
The gas inhaler was a helmet with two tubes extending towards the ground which let fresh air in the face mask and allowed the person wearing it to roam in contaminated or smoky air for about fifteen to twenty minutes. He received a patent in 1912 and during 1913 and 1914 several fire departments tested the safety of the gas inhaler. However, Morgan had Morgan had great difficulty selling his creation. It wasn’t until an explosion in the Cleveland Waterworks , nearly 200 feet beneath Lake Erie, which trapped some construction men, did Morgan’s invention received attention. Morgan, joined by his brother and two additional volunteers, donned the gas inhaler and dramatically helped to rescue the trapped workers. He received a citation for his bravery and subsequently hundreds of orders for the gas inhaler poured in. Even though he was a hero, Garrett Morgan still faced discrimination and still had to settle for less profit than his white counterparts as well as less publicity. When people found out that Morgan was black, orders fell dramatically, and in order to sell his invention, he had to pass himself off as an Indian while a white man
demonstrated his work.
Garrett Morgan created several useful inventions including the stoplight, the straightening comb as well as a coloring stain for men which helped to eliminate gray hair. His gas mask was used by several combat troops during Worked War One and his stoplight was so advanced the policemen were not needed to guide traffic; his stoplight was the only one which utilized three signals instead of just the stop and go signals which had been used up to that time.
Although Garrett Morgan was a successful inventor, he was blighted by racial discrimination and never really enjoyed the full recognition and monetary compensation that he should have. When he sold his rights to his patients to General Electric he only received $40,000 dollars; that invention is a necessity in every major urban area in the country and the world. His compensation was paltry when compared to other well know white inventors who received several times more. In the later years of his life, Garrett Morgan developed glaucoma and was hindered. During his life he received several awards and citations and at the time of his death in 1963 was being honored by the city of Cleveland for his dedication to safety and life saying inventions.