Garrett Morgan held patents on two of today’s most important devices: the gas mask and the traffic signal.
Morgan was born in Paris, Ky., in 1877. Although he only reached the sixth grade, Morgan’s technical and problem-solving skills propelled him to success. At the beginning of his career as an entrepreneur and inventor, Morgan created the first chemical hair straightening product, ultimately launching his own business, G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Company. Along with that success, Morgan also started a sewing machine repair company and a newspaper, The Cleveland Call.
However, it wasn’t until 1914 that Morgan’s most established achievements came into play, patenting a breathing device, the first ever gas mask. Two years later, Morgan and his brother donned the device after a natural gas explosion under Lake Erie and saved the lives of two workers.
But Morgan wasn't finished saving lives. After witnessing a terrible car accident, the inventor decided that roads needed a device to determine when cars and pedestrians had the right of way. His solution was the traffic signal, which he patented in 1923. He eventually sold the rights to General Electric.