Garrett Morgan: An American Inventor cover

Garrett Morgan: An American Inventor

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February is the month that we dedicate to recognize African-Americans and their major contributions throughout American history. Today we’ll be recognizing a very important American and his extremely significant invention that paved the way for a lifesaving tool still used today.


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Garrett Morgan: An American Inventor

Garret Morgan

February is the month that we dedicate to recognize African-Americans and their major contributions throughout American history.

Today we’ll be recognizing a very important American and his extremely significant invention that paved the way for a lifesaving tool still used today.

Garrett A. Morgan Sr., also known as Big Chief Mason, was an African-American inventor credited with the design of the world’s first gas mask, or more accurately called the “safety hood.”

A Portrait of Morgan

Image by DODLive

A Portrait of Morgan

Morgan, born in Claysville, Kentucky in 1877, was the former slave of Confederate Col. John H. Morgan. Having just a sixth grade education, Morgan moved to Cincinnati, Ohio at the age of 16 seeking employment.

Helping The Firefighters

In 1912 Morgan invented a safety hood smoke protection device after noticing how firefighters were struggling with smoke inhalation in the line of duty.

The mask utilized a wet sponge, which filtered smoke and cooled the air, and also an air intake tube, which dangled near the floor where the air was clearer, since smoke and fumes tend to rise.

He later developed models that incorporated an air bag, which could hold up to 15 minutes of air. His invention was refined by the U.S. Army and utilized throughout World War I to protect soldiers from harmful chlorine gas.

Morgan to the Rescue

Public Domain

Morgan to the Rescue

Garrett A. Morgan rescuing a man at the 1917 Lake Erie Crib Disaster.

Winning His Gold Medal

Two years later, it would be patented and awarded a gold medal by the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

In 1916 Morgan’s invention gained national attention when he used it to facilitate the rescue of several men after a tunnel explosion under Lake Erie. Morgan arrived in the middle of the night after two previous rescue attempts failed, with the attempted rescuers becoming victims themselves.

Rescuers were skeptical of Morgan’s invention, so with the aid of his brother, they entered the tunnel and successfully extracted two men. After their success, others joined in; this resulted in the saving of lives of several men. It was also used to retrieve the bodies of the deceased.

Patent Drawing of Morgan's Signal

Patent Drawing of Morgan's Signal

Public Domain

Getting Recognized

After the rescue, Morgan’s company received order requests from fire departments all around the country.

At first, Cleveland newspapers and city officials ignored the fact that it was Morgan who led the rescue, but after a year he was awarded a diamond-studded gold medal for his heroic actions. He was also awarded a medal from the International Association of Fire Engineers and made an honorary member.

Other Credits

Morgan is also credited with inventing a belt fastener for sewing machines, hair straightening cream, black hair oil dye, a curved-tooth comb for hair straightening and also revisioning the traffic signal.

Morgan’s brilliant inventions throughout history are the reason that essential tools, such as the gas mask, were revolutionized and still widely used around the world by service members and firefighters.