Garrett Morgan and The Invention of The Traffic LightNov 20, 2020 08:00AM ● By Kassidy Garland
On November 20, 1923, the U.S. Patent Office grants Patent No. 1,475,074 to Garrett Morgan for his three-position traffic signal. Prior to Mr. Morgan’s patent, traffic lights were being used, but the innovation of the three-position light made driving safer.
Garrett Augustus Morgan was born on march 4, 1877 in Kentucky. He was the 7th out of 11 children born to mixed parents who were freed from slavery. Morgan attended school only at the elementary level, but after moving to Cincinnati, OH for work, he was able to hire a tutor. Despite his 6th grade education, Garrett Morgan proved to be an incredibly intelligent and inventive individual.
After moving to Cleveland, Morgan found success as a sewing machine repairman, and even created his own modifications that he received a patent for. From there, he started his own business, and eventually his own newspaper, Cleveland Call, which became one of the most important newspapers in the country. He also created a chemical to straighten the tight coils of African American hair.
Even with the success of his ideas, Morgan often has to hire white men to play the inventor when trying to sell his products. With his invention of the “Gas Hood” (a precursor to the gas mask), Morgan and his brother were actually able to save the lives of people during a horrible accident at the Cleveland Tunnel Explosion. After finding out Morgan was Black, many people refused to buy his inventions even though they were so useful.
Before the invention of stop lights, Traffic police were used to monitor the roadways. At heavily populated intersections, traffic police would wave on traffic, and whistle for the attention of drivers. With the original traffic light, there was a signal for “stop” and a signal for “go”, allowing the dismal of traffic police.
While growing more and more successful, Morgan became the first Black to own a car in the Cleveland area. Mr. Morgan watched as a rather terrible accident at an intersection took place, and he thought of a way to prevent that from happening. Noticing that there was not enough of a warning for vehicles, bicycles, and horse drawn carts to stop at the change of command, Morgan added a third light.
His original invention was a T-shaped pole with three different settings that would provide a warning signal for people to slow down before the change of the light. With an all-direction stop position, intersections were cleared more easily. General Electric eventually acquired the rights to this traffic light from Mr. Morgan for $40,000.
Garrett Morgan lost the majority of his sight due to glaucoma. Shortly before his death, he was finally honored by the U.S. for his traffic signal, and as a hero for his role in the Cleveland Tunnel Explosion. On July 27, 1963, he died in Cleveland, OH, missing the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation which he was anxiously awaiting. Mr. Morgan’s inventions, some of which we still use today, changed the world, lighting the way for many other Black inventors.
Kassidy Garland has had a great appreciation for reading and writing since she was young. She graduated from West Chester University in 2017 with a Bachelor’s Degree in English & Women and Gender Studies. With a concentration in creative writing, Kassidy has 5 years of experience writing blogs, articles, and for social media. Based out of Philadelphia, Kassidy loves to write about a number of topics and looks forward to sharing her passion with those at FunTimes Magazine.