Commission on Human Rights
40th Great Black Kentuckian was famous inventor
October 14, 2005
New Great Black Kentuckian was a famous inventor
The man who invented the traffic light has been chosen as the 40th member of the Gallery of Great Black Kentuckians, the educational poster and bookmark series produced by the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights (KCHR).
The poster of the late Garrett Augustus Morgan will be unveiled at a special ceremony in his hometown of Paris, Ky., at noon, Wednesday, Oct. 26, at the Hopewell Museum, 800 Pleasant St. The public and media are invited to attend this free event.
“Garrett Augustus Morgan was an American whose curiosity and innovation led him to reject the obstacles of his era and to achieve great prosperity and remarkable achievements,” said Linda Strite Murnane, KCHR executive director. “His accomplishments include inventions we still rely upon today,” she said.
The son of former slaves, Morgan was born in Paris, Ky. on March 4, 1877. His early childhood was spent attending school and working with his brothers and sisters on the family farm. His formal education ended after elementary school. While still a teenager, he left Kentucky, moving north to Cincinnati, Ohio, in search of employment.
When he was 37, Morgan invented the gas mask, which was patented in 1914, and used by the United States Army during World War I. In 1920, he started the Cleveland Call newspaper. He became a successful and widely respected businessman. This prosperity enabled him to purchase a home and an automobile. His experiences driving through the streets of Cleveland are what led him to invent the nation’s first patented three-position traffic signal.
Morgan was the first to apply for and acquire a U. S. patent for his three-position traffic signal despite other inventors who were experimenting with and marketing their own devices. The patent was granted on November 20, 1923. Morgan later had the technology patented in Great Britain and Canada. This technology was the basis for the modern-day traffic signal and was a significant contribution to the development of what we now know as Intelligent Transportation Systems.
Morgan’s traffic management technology was used throughout North America until it was replaced by the red, yellow and green light traffic signals currently used around the world. Morgan eventually sold the rights for his traffic signal to the General Electric Corporation for $40,000. He was considered one of America’s most prominent inventors.
In 2005, Morgan was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio. Shortly before his death, in 1963, Morgan was awarded a citation for the traffic signal by the United States Government.
Morgan’s original wooden prototype traffic signal is on public display at Cleveland’s African American Museum along with one of the three original Safety Hoods still in existence. Morgan died August 27, 1963. He was 86 years old.
The state human rights commission introduced the Gallery poster and bookmark series in 1970, to recognize the achievements of African Americans neglected in traditional histories of the state and to introduce Kentucky African American history into classrooms. The series helps the commission in its task to raise awareness of human and civil rights in the commonwealth.
Educators and libraries use the colorful, biographical-style pieces as teaching tools. Free posters and bookmarks are available to the public.
The KCHR is the state government agency that enforces The Kentucky Civil Rights Act and the policies of federal civil rights laws. It receives initiates, investigates, conciliates and rules upon jurisdictional complaints. The KCHR has jurisdiction in housing, employment, public accommodations, financial transactions, and private clubs. The Kentucky Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status in housing, disability, age (40 or over) in employment, and smoking status in employment. Complaints not dismissed, settled or conciliated go to administrative hearing where commission decisions have the authority of a court of law.