Garrett Morgan

    The idea for another life-saving invention occurred to Morgan after he witnessed an accident in which a horse-drawn carriage and an automobile collided at a busy crossroads. The driver of the automobile was knocked unconscious and the horse so badly injured it had to be shot.

    Prompted by the need for better accident prevention, Morgan came up with an idea for the first electric traffic signals. Previously, traffic signals only showed two signs: stop and go. Morgan thought that accidents were often caused by impatient drivers who started as soon as the go signal was shown and before traffic going in the other direction had passed. His invention introduced a third signal: an all-directional stop signal that halted all traffic and allowed pedestrians to cross safely before the next go signal was shown. The signal consisted of a T-shaped pole with arms, which were raised and lowered to reveal stop and go signs.

    Morgan patented his invention in 1923 and then sold the rights to the General Electric Corporation for $40,000. It was installed in many cities. His basic idea underlies the three signals of today's red-amber-green traffic lights.

    Morgan actively worked to improve the civil rights and welfare of black people. In 1920 he started publishing the Cleveland Call, a newspaper devoted to news in the black community. This newspaper, now named the Call & Post, is still published and has a large circulation in parts of Ohio. Morgan was treasurer of the Cleveland Association of Colored Men, which later merged with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He ran as an independent candidate for the City Council of Cleveland in 1931, pledging to fight for improved representation for black people in the government.

    In 1943, Morgan developed the eye disease glaucoma and eventually became almost blind. He died in 1963 and is commemorated in the Cleveland Hall of Fame.  


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