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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

MORGAN, GARRETT A. - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

MORGAN, GARRETT A. (4 Mar. 1877 [sometimes given as 1879]-27 July 1963), was an important inventor and businessman active in the affairs of Cleveland's black community. Among his most notable inventions were an early gas mask and a traffic light. Born in Paris, Ky., to Sydney, a former slave and son of Confederate Col. John H. Morgan, and Eliza Reed, also a former slave, Morgan received 6 years of education before leaving home at age 14 for Cincinnati where he worked and hired a tutor to continue his education. He came to Cleveland on 17 June 1895. After various positions as a sewing-machine adjuster for clothing manufacturers, Morgan went into business for himself in 1907, establishing a shop on W. 6th St. to repair and sell sewing machines. In 1909 he opened a tailoring shop; with 32 employees, he manufactured suits, dresses, and coats. In 1913 he organized the G. A. Morgan Hair Refining Co. to market a hair-straightening solution he had discovered by accident in 1905. This company soon offered a complete line of hair-care products.

Morgan invented a safety helmet to protect the wearer from smoke and ammonia, introducing his "Breathing Device" in 1912, patenting it in 1914, and using it to descend into the gas-filled tunnel beneath Lake Erie to rescue workers and retrieve bodies after the Cleveland Waterworks explosion (see WATERWORKS TUNNEL DISASTERS) on 25 July 1916. Morgan established the Natl. Safety Device Co. in 1914. Morgan's other major invention, a traffic light (1923), was unique in using a third, cautionary signal between "stop" and "go." Morgan sold his traffic light to General Electric Co. for $40,000 in 1923.

Morgan in 1920 founded the Cleveland Call, a weekly newspaper, and in 1908 helped found the CLEVELAND ASSOCIATION OF COLORED MEN. In 1923 he bought a farm near Wakeman, Ohio, establishing the black Wakeman Country Club. Morgan married Madge Nelson in 1896; they were divorced in 1898. In 1908 he married Mary Hasek. He had three children, John P., Garrett A., Jr., and Cosmo H. Morgan died in Cleveland and was buried in LAKE VIEW CEMETERY.

Garrett Augustus Morgan Papers, WRHS.

Last Modified: 23 Feb 2005 11:48:51 AM

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