Garrett Morgan: The Inventor of the Position Traffic Light

Certainly! One significant and often overlooked aspect of history is the numerous contributions made by Black inventors. Let’s explore the story of Garrett Morgan, an African American inventor whose innovative spirit left a lasting impact on traffic safety.

Garrett Morgan: Pioneering Traffic Safety

In the early 20th century, Garrett Morgan, born in 1877 in Paris, Kentucky, emerged as an inventive force, contributing significantly to traffic safety with his creation of the three-position traffic signal.

1. Early Life:

Garrett Morgan was the son of former slaves, and he began his career as a sewing machine mechanic. In 1907, he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he opened his own sewing machine and shoe repair shop.

2. The Safety Hood:

In 1914, Morgan gained national attention for his invention of the safety hood, a precursor to the modern gas mask. Inspired by a tragic event where workers were trapped in a tunnel filled with fumes, Morgan’s safety hood allowed users to breathe safely in toxic environments.

3. The Three-Position Traffic Signal:

Morgan’s most significant contribution to traffic safety came in 1923 when he patented the three-position traffic signal. Before his invention, traffic signals only had two positions, “stop” and “go,” causing confusion and increasing the risk of accidents.

Morgan’s innovation introduced a third position, the “warning” signal, which greatly improved traffic flow and safety. This new signal system, featuring a T-shaped pole with three distinct positions, became the precursor to the modern traffic light.

4. Overcoming Challenges:

As an African American inventor in the early 20th century, Morgan faced significant challenges due to racial discrimination. Despite this adversity, he persevered and secured patents for his inventions, contributing to advancements that benefited society as a whole.

5. Legacy:

Garrett Morgan’s inventions, particularly the three-position traffic signal, have had a lasting impact on road safety. His contributions helped reduce traffic accidents and improve the efficiency of traffic flow, providing a safer environment for motorists and pedestrians alike.


Garrett Morgan’s inventive spirit and commitment to safety exemplify the often-overlooked contributions of Black inventors. His legacy serves as a reminder that innovation knows no racial or ethnic boundaries and can lead to transformative changes that benefit society as a whole.

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