Marker #1493, “Famous Inventor, 1877-1963”, Tenth & Vine St., Paris, KY 627. (Garrett Augustus Morgan, Sr.)
Historical Marker #1493 highlights the accomplishments of American inventor Garrett Augustus Morgan, born in Paris, Kentucky in the Claysville area on March 4, 1877 . His mother was Elizabeth and likely formerly enslaved, while his father Sydney Morgan was formerly enslaved by John Hunt Morgan (rumored to be his father). Garrett Morgan grew up on the family farm while his father worked for the L&N Railroad. His formal education was at the Branch School in Claysville, and he never graduated from high school.
At the age of 16 he left home seeking work in Cincinnati, Ohio, but he soon left for Cleveland, Ohio to find work with a more promising future. He first secured work in a sewing machine factory and with his inventive mind he learned the workings of the machine. He developed many attachments that made threading, winding and re-winding the machines easier and invented the belt used to run the sewing machine. Morgan finally acquired his own sewing machine and shoe repair shop in 1907, where he discovered, then manufactured, his formula for straightening hair under the trademark of G. A. Morgan Hair Straightening Cream. He also created a black hair oil dye and a curved-tooth iron comb to aid with the straightening of hair. He added a tailoring shop which manufactured coats, suits, dresses and other clothing. It employed more than thirty workers.
Madge Nelson became his first wife in 1896, but that union ended in divorce. In 1908 he married again to Mary Anne Hassek, and they had three sons.
He started his own newspaper to note the achievements of African Americans. It was named “Cleveland Call”, later changed to the “Call & Post” which was printed throughout the 20th Century.
In 1912 Morgan invented the Safety Hood, the forerunner of the Gas Mask for which he was granted a patent in 1914. With this device he was able to assist with the recovery of men trapped in a tunnel of the Cleveland Waterworks 250 feet below Lake Erie. He received a gold medal from the Second International Exposition of Sanitation and Safety for this invention. The National Safety Device Company was established to manufacture and market the gas mask which was widely used in World War I.
While watching the movement of traffic in Cleveland Morgan conceived the idea of his best known invention, the tri-color traffic signal. It regulated movement of vehicles with its stop, wait and go concept. In November 1923 he received a patent for his traffic signal. He promptly sold the rights to General Electric Corporation for its manufacture.
Morgan developed glaucoma in 1943, which left him nearly blind. He died in Cleveland on July 27, 1963 where he was buried in Lake View Cemetery.
African American Inventors (Black Stars Series), Otha Richard Sullivan, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1998, p. 75.
Kentucky Encyclopedia, Morgan, Garrett Augustus (1877-1963), Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, Great Black Kentuckians, online http://kchr.ky.gov/Gallery+of+Great+Black+Kentuckians/gallergreatblack.htm?&pageOrder=3&selectedPic=39, viewed 20 Nov 2013.
“Boyhood and Early Life of Garrett A. Morgan” by Lawrence Kellis and Minnie Johnson Hitch, 1974. Pamphlet on file at Hopewell Museum, Paris, KY.
Early Gas Mask
The gas mask invented by Garrett Morgan, as it looked during use in WW I.