Garrett Augustus Morgan, Sr. (March 4, 1877 – July 27, 1963) was an African American inventor and community leader. His most notable inventions included a type of protective respiratory hood (or gas mask), a traffic signal, and a hair-straightening preparation. He is renowned for a heroic rescue in 1916 in which he and three others used his safety hood device to save workers trapped in a water intake tunnel being dug under Lake Erie after a natural gas explosion and fire which took the lives of workers and the first police officers and firefighters who attempted to rescue them. He is also credited as the first African American in Cleveland, Ohio, to own an automobile.
Morgan was born in Paris, Kentucky to Sydney, a former slave and son of Confederate Colonel John H. Morgan, and Eliza Reed, also a former slave who was half American Indian.Morgan moved at the age of fourteen to Cincinnati, Ohio in search of employment. Most of his teenage years were spent working as a handyman for a wealthy Cincinnati landowner. Like many African Americans of his day, he had to quit school at a young age in order to work. However, the teen-aged Morgan was able to hire his own tutor and continued his studies while living in Cincinnati. In 1895, he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he worked repairing sewing machines for a clothing manufacturer. His first invention, developed during this period, was a belt fastener for sewing machines. He married his first wife, Madge Nelson, in 1896, but that marriage ended in divorce. Word of his skill at fixing things and experimenting spread quickly throughout Cleveland, opening up various opportunities for him.
In 1907, Morgan opened his own sewing machine and shoe repair shop. It was the first of several businesses he would own. In 1908, Morgan helped found the Cleveland Association of Colored Men. That same year, he married his second wife, Mary Anne Hassek, and together they had three sons. In 1909, he and his wife expanded their business ventures by opening a shop called Morgan’s Cut Rate Ladies Clothing Store. The company had 32 employees, and made coats, suits, dresses, and other clothing.
A few years later, he developed his safety hood invention. He filed for a patent on it in 1912, and launched the National Safety Device Company in 1914. At around the same time, in 1913, he launched the G. A. Morgan Hair Refining Company, which sold hair care products, including a hair straightening cream, a hair dye, and a hair straightening comb invented by Morgan.
His safety hood invention led him to nation-wide fame and a much higher level of commercial success. The hair care company was also successful enough to become a long-lasting established business.He then went on to develop his traffic control signal, for which he filed for a patent in 1922.He developed glaucoma in 1943, and was functionally blind and in poor health in his later life.Morgan died on July 27, 1963,at the age of 86, and is buried at Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.