Garrett Morgan

Morgan's landmark invention was the Safety Hood, a forerunner of the modern-day gas mask. Invented in 1912 and patented in 1914, the mask was designed to enable firefighters to safely enter houses filled with smoke. In his patent application Morgan called the invention a 'Breathing Device'.

Morgan observed that smoke and fumes tend to rise during a fire. The device consisted of a heat-resistant hood connected to a long inlet tube that ran down to the ground to the layer of clean air beneath the smoke or gas. The end of the tube was plugged with absorbent material that was moistened before use to filter and cool air that was inhaled. A separate tube containing a valve provided an outlet for exhaled air. Morgan set up the National Safety Device Company to manufacture and market his invention. The mask won several awards, including the First Grand Prize at the Second International Exposition of Safety and Sanitation in New York City.

Morgan tested and demonstrated his invention over the next few years. In one display, a canvas tent was put up and a fire lit inside, burning tar sulphur, formaldehyde and manure. This produced foul smelling, suffocating smoke, but a man wearing Morgan's Safety Hood remained in the tent for 20 minutes without showing any effects. When showing the product in the far South, Morgan had to employ a white man to do the demonstrations for him. This was because racial prejudice might have prevented people placing orders for the hood.

During World War I (1914-1918) gas masks were needed by American soldiers to protect them from the effects of poisonous gases. The Americans adapted gas masks which had been developed by the British. They produced several designs which incorporated features similar to those from Morgan's Safety Hood. These masks became standard equipment for soldiers in the field and saved many lives.

Morgan's Safety Hood was put to the ultimate test by a remarkable incident in 1916. On July 24, a huge explosion rocked a tunnel in the Cleveland Water Works, 250 feet below Lake Erie. Poisonous fumes, smoke and dust filled the tunnel, leaving thirty-two workers trapped below ground.

Morgan was called and rushed to the scene with his brother Frank. Putting on their Safety Hoods they plunged into the tunnel. Before long, Morgan emerged carrying a man on his back, and immediately returned to rescue another. Together, Morgan and his brother brought out all the trapped men.

Morgan's act of heroism put him in newspapers all over the country. He was given two prestigious awards for his heroic act: the Carnegie Medal and a gold Medal of Bravery by the City of Cleveland. The media coverage prompted a stream of orders and requests for demonstrations from fire departments, police departments and mining companies.