First Automatic Traffic Signal
Garrett A. Morgan, an African-American
businessman and inventor, invented the first automatic traffic signal in 1923. It brought order and greater safety to city
streets congested with the increasingly popular horseless carriages. The
first traffic signal was installed in Cleveland at the corner of Euclid
Avenue & East 105th Street. Inspiration for the invention came to Morgan as he watched
traffic flow on the busy streets of Cleveland. Morgan sold the invention
to the General Electric Co for $40,000, and GE began manufacturing the
was the son of former slaves, and grew up on a farm in Kentucky. As a
teen, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. While he never went past elementary
school in formal training, he did work with a tutor in Cincinnati. Morgan
moved to Cleveland in 1895 and went to work as a sewing machine repairman.
His understanding of mechanics helped him both in this trade and also in his
memorable inventions. In 1907, he launched his
own business that repaired sewing machines and also trained others to do the
same. Not a man to focus just on one thing, Morgan started a newspaper in 1920
called the "Cleveland Call." It was during this period that Morgan came up with
the idea of the traffic signal.
While colored lights were incorporated
later, Morgan's idea was a machine that displayed three versions of signs:
"stop" -- "go" -- and an "all-directional stop. The all directional stop
was design to allow people to cross the busy streets. While other may have been
working on similar ideas at the time, Morgan was the first to acquire a U.S.
patent for his work, which was granted on November 20, 1923.
Morgan also contributed to public safety with
other inventions. He invented helmets and gas masks used by firefighters
in the early 1900's. He also invented a gas mask that was used extensively in
1914 during World War I to protect service people from the effects of chlorine
Did You Know?
- Morgan invented the first hair straightener
which he sold as "Morgan Hair Refining Cream."
- He also designed a "de-curling" comb.
- Morgan invented "zig-zag" sewing machine
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