Traffic Lights Keep us Safe | Garrett Morgan
During Black History Month, we want to recognize those African American leaders that have shaped our lives as we know it today. One significant invention was that of the traffic light, which plays an important role in our safety today.
The world’s first traffic signal was installed in London in December 1868. This traffic light was a manually operated gas-lit signal. These traffic signals were not that effective since they switched back and forth between Stop and Go with no interval in between. Because of this, drivers had no time to react when the signal changed, causing many collisions between vehicles.
However, in 1923 Garrett Morgan, an inventor and newspaperman, invented the three-position traffic signal. The signal that we have all come to know today. This was a significant innovation, because by having a third position, besides “Stop” and “Go,” it made driving safer. Now there was a better regulation for crossing vehicles.
Garrett Morgan was the child of two former slaves. He was born in Kentucky in 1877 and then moved to Ohio at the age of 14, looking for a job. Garrett started off as a handyman in Cincinnati, then he moved to Cleveland, where he worked as a sewing-machine repairman.
In 1907 he opened his own repair shop, and in 1909 he added a garment shop to his operations. His businesses became very successful, and by 1920 Garret started his own newspaper called The Cleveland Call. This newspaper became one of the most essential papers in the nation. Because of his successful business ventures, Garrett Morgan was the first African American to own a car. During that period, there were many vehicles, bicycles, delivery wagons, and pedestrians in the street. It became very chaotic to drive, and the intersections became very dangerous to cross. It is said that Garrett Morgan witnessed a terrible accident at a supposedly regulated corner. It is when he saw that collision that he came up with the idea of the traffic signal. He believed that if he could design a signal with an interval “warning” position, drivers would have enough time to clear the intersection before the light changes, making it much safer to drive.
On November 20, 1923, the U.S. Patent Office granted a patent to Garrett Morgan for his T-shaped pole with three signal settings, the ancestor of today’s traffic light. The new design was inexpensive enough that it allowed a lot more lights to be installed. Garrett Morgan later sold the rights to his invention to General Electric for $40,000.