Garrett Morgan (1877-1963)
IDareu2Bee.com believes that celebrating Black history month is so important as it helps everyone connect not only to the brave black activists in the civil rights movement but also those who have contributed to various industries through their intellectual and creative pursuits. There are many everyday products that we take for granted for which we have an African American to thank and we are so excited to share with you the man who created products to increase our safety: Garrett Morgan.
“If you can be the best, then why not try to be the best?” That question famously stated by Garrett Morgan shaped his life. He knew it was possible that we “can” be our best as we all have the choice to do that, yet it is the second part of that statement that is truly powerful. Stated as a question: “Why not TRY?” The word “try” is a word that continuously provoked Garrett’s mind and drove him to not only invent new products but to figure out how to improve on existing products to make them better.
Garrett Morgan was born in 1877 in Kentucky to two mixed-race parents. His mother was the daughter of a Baptist minister and was of Native American and African descent, and his father was a recently freed slave whose father was a white colonel in the Confederate Army. Garrett was one of 11 children and as a teenager, he moved to Ohio in search of job opportunities. With only an elementary-level education he found work as a handyman. Education was important to him, however, and he used his earnings to pay for private tutoring. He had a curious mind and while working at a sewing factory he learned how to take apart and fix sewing machines. He soon figured out how to make a better, more efficient sewing machine which he patented and from there he became a business owner, opening his own repair shop.
In 1914, he invented a breathing device or a hood that protected the wearer by filtering out pollutants, smoke, and gases. Garrett concentrated his sales efforts on fire departments and his invention was the precursor to the gas masks worn by soldiers in World War I. Given the racial dynamics in the United States at that time, Garrett encountered a lot of resistance by white business owners to even listen to his product presentations, let alone buy his product because of the colour of his skin. Knowing the value and importance of his breathing device, he did not let the racism he faced deter him. He let go of his frustration and anger at the injustice he faced, and he let creativity in! He hired a white actor to play the role of the inventor and he assumed the character of a Native American he called “Big Chief Mason” during product presentations, and he would wear his device to demonstrate its capabilities. When white business owners believed that the product was invented by a white man they readily agreed to hear the pitch and find out how the breathing device works and be of value.
This business was a stepping stone to other inventions and businesses which provided Garrett and his family with financial prosperity and security. So much so that he was the first African American man to own a car in Cleveland Ohio, where he lived! It was while driving one day in 1923 that the idea for his next invention would strike. Unfortunately, he was witness to a terrible accident at a problematic intersection in town. That experience inspired him to find a solution that would make the roads safer. It was then that he had the idea to improve the existing traffic light from a two-light signal to a three-light signal like we know it today. You see, before that fateful day, the stoplights were red and green only. Garrett had the thought that it would be a good idea to have a warning light between the red and green lights to signal to the drivers to slow down and get ready to stop. He was able to patent his invention in the United States, Canada, and Britain, and later sold the invention to General Electric. His invention was the precursor to the traffic lights that we all take for granted today! Next time you are slowing down because of the amber light as you approach an intersection give thanks to Garrett Morgan for his enterprising spirit and desire to make the roads safer.
Mr. Morgan was a prolific inventor whose many inventions were the building blocks for many products we use today. He faced many obstacles in his life being of mixed-race descent at a time of oppression and lack of rights or opportunity. Yet, despite those obstacles, he knew that his ideas were valuable, and he did not let his circumstances stop him. Imagine the anger, frustration he would have felt not being given a chance simply because of the colour of his skin, knowing that his inventions had the potential to save lives! One can easily imagine that hopelessness could set in and cause him to give up. Not Garrett Morgan, however. He was able to let go of all those negative thoughts, emotions, focus on the value of his products and let imagination in! He was able to remain humble, put his ego aside, and give up being the public face of the product so that he could get his products in the hands of those it would help the most.
We at Idareu2bee.com acknowledge and thank the enterprising, creative, and humble spirit of Garrett Morgan. He is a true example of perseverance, and how to change the world by Letting Go and Letting Love Win!