CLEVELAND — All this month, News 5 is profiling trailblazers in Northeast Ohio Black History, including Garrett Morgan, who invented the three-way traffic signal system known as the traffic light.
Born in Kentucky to parents who were formally enslaved, Morgan received six years of education before leaving home at 14 for Cincinnati, where he worked and hired a tutor to continue his education.
Known as an important inventor and businessman active in the affairs of Cleveland’s Black community, he came to Cleveland in 1895, starting off as a sewing machine adjuster for clothing manufacturers. He opened a tailor shop with 32 employees.
He was the first Black man in Cleveland to own a car.
In 1913 he created the G. A. Morgan Hair Refining Co. to market a hair-straightening solution he had discovered by accident in 1905. He then developed a line of hair care products.
Among his notable inventions is a safety helmet to protect the wearer from smoke and ammonia. Known as the “breathing device,” he patented it in 1914. It was used during rescue operations while under Lake Erie after the Waterworks explosion in 1916. The mask later became a prototype for the gas masks used in World War II.
He also invented the traffic light, selling it to General Electric Company for $40,000 in 1923, according to Case Western Reserve’s Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.
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