Born in Paris, Kentucky to Sydney, a former slave and son of Confederate Col. John H. Morgan and Eliza Reed, also a former slave, Morgan moved at the age of fourteen to Cincinnati, Ohio in search of employment. Most of his teenage years were spent working as a handyman for a wealthy Cincinnati landowner. Like many African Americans of his day, he had to quit school at a young age in order to work. However, the teen-aged Morgan was able to hire his own tutor and continued his studies while living in Cincinnati. In 1895, he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he worked repairing sewing machines for a clothing manufacturer. In 1916 he helped to found the Cleveland Call newspaper, and subsequently participated in a 1928 merger that created the Call and Post newspaper. He married his first wife, Madge Nelson, in 1896, but that marriage ended in divorce. Word of his skill at fixing things and experimenting spread quickly throughout Cleveland, opening up various opportunities for him.
In 1907, Morgan opened his own sewing machine and shoe repair shop. It was the first of several businesses he would own. In 1908, Morgan helped found the Cleveland Association of Colored Men. That same year, he married his second wife, Mary Anne Hassek, and together they had three sons. In 1909, he expanded his business to include a tailoring shop. The company made coats, suits, dresses, and other clothing. Morgan experimented with a liquid that gave sewing machine needles a high polish and prevented the needle from scorching fabric as it sewed. Accidentally, Morgan discovered that this liquid not only straightened fabric but also hair. He made the liquid into a cream and began the G. A. Morgan Hair Refining Company. He also made a black hair oil dye and a curved-tooth iron comb in 1910, to straighten hair.
BLACK SOCIAL HISTORY
and hearing about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. His device used a wet sponge to filter out smoke and cool the air. He was able to sell his invention around the country, sometimes using the tactic of having a hired white actor take credit rather than revealing himself as its inventor. For demonstrations of the device, he sometimes adopted the disguise of "Big Chief Mason", a purported full-blooded Indian from the Walpole Island Indian Reserve in Canada. His invention became known nationally when he and three other men used it to save several men after a 1916 tunnel explosion under Lake Erie. Cleveland's newspapers and city officials initially ignored Morgan's personal acts of heroism as the first to rush into the tunnel for the rescue, and it took years for the city to recognize his contributions. Eventually, Morgan was awarded a gold Medal of Bravery by prominent citizens of Cleveland and a gold medal for bravery from the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
Morgan's invention of the safety hood was featured on the television show Inventions that Shook the World]
Traffic signal BLACK SOCIAL HISTORY His device had two key safety features: having an intermediate "all stop" signal state to give moving traffic time to stop before signaling cross traffic to proceed, and having a "half mast" position to indicate general caution at times when the device operator was not present.
There is no evidence to support the claim that Morgan's traffic signal was ever put into service. Despite claims on various websites as well as in print that Morgan's invention was used "throughout North America", the absence of his signal in 1920s photographs and news articles suggests that it was not installed in large numbers, if at all. Notably, it did not merit a single mention in the book-length historical study by Gordon M. Sessions, which covers a wide variety of devices in tracing the development of traffic-control devices throughout history.
Many of these sources also claim that the patent rights for Morgan's designs were sold at about that time to General Electric (GE) for $40,000. However, no record of this transaction appears either in the U.S. patent assignment records at the National Archives, the GE historical business records at the Schenectady Museum in New York, or in Morgan's own legal and business papers at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland. Advertisements and photos from the 1920s indicate that GE's early traffic signal products were of the more modern electric variety, not manually operated semaphores. Several GE patent acquisitions from the early to mid-1920s show that the company was investing heavily in solid-state electronic circuitry and automated traffic signaling devices during that time. By the end of 1926, GE had begun experimenting with traffic-controlled systems (as opposed to timer-controlled devices); it is highly implausible[ that GE would consider investing $40,000 (over $500,000 USD inflation-adjusted to 2011) in a manual, crank-driven signaling device during an era when the company was researching, developing and producing solid-state analog circuitry and actively implementing these technologies into their signals.