Black History: Special Delivery!!
Garrett Morgan (1877-1963) was a prolific inventor and businessman. His inventions of the gas mask and traffic signal are still having an impact even today. The invention that led the way and financed these inventions was hair straightening cream accidentally invented by Morgan. His hair straightening cream made hair less curly and easier to straighten. His accidental discovery of a chemical straightening cream occurred when Morgan observed fabric straightened by a liquid compound. He turned the liquid into cream and launched the G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Company. Morgan also invented a black oil hair dye and a curved tooth comb hair straightener in 1910. His inventions were wildly successful and he used the proceeds to finance his other projects including the gas mask, traffic signal, and a self-extinguishing cigarette.
Born in 1877, Morgan only completed elementary school education. He was the 7th of 11 children. Morgan moved to Cleveland Ohio as a teenager to look for work. He began his career as a mechanic; working on sewing machines. He would later patent an improved version of a sewing machine and opened his own repair shop. His sewing machine repair business was successful. During this time he also married a Bavarian woman, Mary Anne Hasssek. The couple had 3 sons.
It was his patented sewing machine that unexpectedly led to the invention of his hair refining cream. In 1909, he was working on a sewing machine and working with wool fabric, he experimented a chemical solution applied to his sewing needles to reduce friction and prevent scorching of the fabrics by the needle. Morgan noticed that the solution had a smoothing effect on the fabrics. He tested the solution out on a dog and then tried it on himself. He then launched the G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Company. He sold the straightening cream to black customers and used the proceeds to finance other inventions.
In 1914 was when Morgan patented the “safety hood” (gas mask) which facilitated safe breathing. He worked diligently to market the device; even hiring a white man to act as the inventor; after he realized that people weren’t buying his invention because he was black. Morgan would later go on to invent the traffic signal in 1923. He later sold the rights to General Electric for $40,000. He began developing glaucoma in 1943; losing most of his vision as a result. Morgan died in 1963.