Have you heard of Garrett Morgan?
Garrett Morgan was an inventor, who patented a sewing machine, a hair strengthening product, a breathing mask and a traffic signal. He was also the first black man in Cleveland, Ohio to own a car. Garrett Morgan died on July 27, 1963 in Cleveland, Ohio leaving behind a long lasting legacy.
Garrett Morgan grew up in Paris, Kentucky as a mixed child to Indian and African American parents. Having only an elementary school education, Morgan left for Ohio in search of work, at an early age.
After finding employment as a handyman, Morgan paid for private tutoring lessons to further his studies. With a better education, Morgan looked for work at other places in Ohio. He was most drawn to sewing machine factories, and eventually grew to love the machine and the art of sewing. Years of experience working with the sewing machine led him to obtain a patent for a more improved one.
The Stepping Stone
With this patent and the opportunities that came after, Morgan was able to open a tailoring shop. Morgan’s tailoring shop was a stepping stone to his success and legacy, granting him the resources and finances to continue with his inventions.
Hair Straightening Product
While working with a woolen fabric, Morgan ran into a problem which led him to experimenting with chemical solutions. In the process, Morgan realized the solution was straightening the fabric hairs. After successfully testing the solution on a dog, Morgan then tried the product on himself before establishing G.A Morgan Hair Refining Company. Morgan packaged, sold and marketed the cream to African Americans, before long it became a success.
Garrett Morgan also obtained a patent for a breathing mask in 1914. The mask or device was created for scenarios when there is heavy smoke or gas making it difficult or impossible to breathe. It was to be used primarily by firefighters, rescue workers and the military in mind.
Despite the idea, race played a huge role in its success or lack thereof. Morgan even went as far as to use a white actor to demonstrate and sell the product to customers. Prejudice and racism created a selling problem, especially in the South.
Cleveland Tunnel Explosion
In 1916, a Cleveland Tunnel Explosion occurred leaving workers trapped. Hearing about the explosion, Morgan and his brother rushed to the scene with the patented equipment to assist. They were able to rescue two people.
Morgan and his brother received little recognition for their heroism and bravery during the incident. Others were even credited as rescuers in news reports. Although, Morgan was nominated for a Carnegie Medal, he didn’t receive the award.
Before passing away on July 21, 1963, Morgan was finally honored for his his heroism during the Cleveland Tunnel Explosion.
Garrett Morgan: Biography
Black Inventor Garrett Morgan Saved Countless Lives with Gas Mask and Improved Traffic Lights: Scientific American