BLACK HISTORY MONTH: The Inventor of the Traffic Light 1923

Have you ever sat at a traffic light and thought to yourself, who had the bright idea to invent the traffic light.

Garrett Morgan, Inventor (1877-1963) ( 1)

This great and innovated man only had an elementary education and a little tutoring before he found himself in a job he loved which would dictate his career. During his life he invented: a hair straightening product while trying to solve a problem of needles burning cotton, an improved sewing machine, a respiratory device which would be used as a model to create the gas masks used in WWI, and an improved traffic signal. ( 1)

The original inventor of the traffic signal was Lester Wire in 1912. Mr. Morgan however, is accredited with the first traffic light based on a T-shaped design in 1923. (Google Search: 2)

He ran into a lot of difficulties selling his gas mask and had to take on a Caucasian partner who would pretend to be the inventor of the patent. They would put on shows for firefighters advertising Mr. Morgan’s product by putting Mr. Morgan in the most dangerous parts of the fire using his gas mask. They were very profitable until an incident in Lake Erie, a mine collapsed and Mr. Morgan and his partner went into the mine donning the gas masks and rescued 2 persons and recovered 4 bodies. Although they were hero’s, racism lost Mr. Morgan credit and it became known he patented the mask and people would no longer buy it from him. Fortunately the American government has since recognized Mr. Morgan and his partner as hero’s of Lake Erie. ( 1)

It is sad that Mr. Morgan didn’t survive to see the Emancipation Proclamation centennial. He passed a short time before the celebration. To Mr. Morgan’s credit he saved numerous lives over the years with his inventions of the gas mask and traffic light, providing the tools other inventors would need to improve on these life saving devices. ( 1)

  1. Garrett Morgan Biography (1877 – 1963), Updated Jan 5, 2021, original: Feb 2, 2018.
  2. search, “original inventor of the traffic light”, – Where did the traffic lights originate? Traffic light – › wiki › Traffic_light

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