Garrett Morgan – The “Trifecta” Inventor

garret morgan image
Written by Tinaya Sallie

Considered as one of those one in a million persons who had the ability to develop a world changing invention and follow it up with something just as good or even better, Garrett Morgan was quite the pioneer of his time. Born on the 4th of March 1877 in Kentucky, he was number seven in a mass of eleven children between his parents Sydney and Elizabeth Morgan.

In the pursuit of a better education for himself left for Ohio at the age of 14, then he moved to Cincinnati and finally settled in Cleveland where did odd jobs, until he learnt enough about the sewing machine to open his own store in 1907, where he sold new sewing machines and repaired old inefficient ones. A year later he got married to a Mary Ann Hassek with whom he had three children.

garret morgan

Garrett Morgan, African American innovator, invented the three-positioned traffic light to prevent car accidents in 1923.

He expanded his business in 1909 into a tailoring shop that sold dresses coats and suits. It was while he was working here, he gave way to his first invention. While sewing he noticed that the needle of the sewing machine was moving incredibly fast, that it had the tendency to slightly burn the threading on woolen material, so he set about creating a liquid that would reduce the needle friction. He was called to dinner by his wife, and wiped his hands in a pony cloth. When he came back he noticed that the fibers on the cloth were now straight. He immediately theorized that the liquid maybe responsible, so tried it on his neighbor’s Airedale dog for confirmation. The dog’s hair came out so straight, that owner chased it away not realizing it was his own dog.

He then tried it on himself by putting some in a section of his hair and then his entire head. The trials were all successful and this liquid came to be the first human hair-straightener. Morgan then set out to market his new innovative product under the name G. A. Morgan Hair Refining Cream, which was sold under his G. A. Morgan Refining Company, which subsequently became a very successful entity.

garret morgan statue

garret morgan photo

However, his work didn’t stop there. In later years, he went on to make and patent a Breathing Device that he called a Safety Hood. We know it better as the gas mask. This incredible invention went on to save lots of lives in the World War I and also the lives of persons that were caught in a tunnel explosion in July 24, 1916. The news of his invention spread like wildfire and he received orders to create some more. But most of these were withdrawn by the white community who rather subject themselves to die from inhaling poisonous fumes that use an invention of a black man.

To seal the trifecta, Morgan went on to develop the first automated traffic signal, which was spurred from an accident he had witnessed. He in his latter years, he was diagnosed with glaucoma with took more than 50% of his vison and later passed away on the 27th of June 1963.

In closing, it can be safely said that the Garrett Morgan was a genius in his own right. Developing something so marvelous and being able to follow up with two other inventions which also went on to change the way of life as we now know it.


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Tinaya Sallie

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