Meet Garrett Morgan, the Inventor of the Three Traffic Lights

by Duchess Magazine
Garrett Morgan

How a terrible accident inspired Garrett Morgan to invent the three-light traffic light system

The three-light traffic system was created in 1922 by black inventor and entrepreneur Garrett Morgan, whose parents were once slaves.

Morgan decided to design a traffic signal after witnessing a car and a horse-drawn carriage collision. Although earlier inventors had experimented with, sold, and even invented traffic signals, Morgan was one of the first to file for and be granted a U.S. patent for a low-cost way to make one. A patent was given out on November 20, 1923. Additionally, Morgan applied for patents on his invention in Canada and the United Kingdom.

Morgan’s traffic signal featured three settings: stop, go, and an all-directional standstill. A T-shaped pole unit constituted it. To make it safer for people to cross the street, this “third position” stopped cars traveling in all directions.

Morgan’s hand-cranked semaphore traffic management system was in use throughout North America up until all manual red-, yellow-, and green-light traffic signals were replaced by the automatic red-, yellow-, and green-light traffic signals currently in use throughout the world. The inventor sold the rights to his traffic signal to General Electric for $40,000.
Another enduring legacy of his is the Cleveland Call and Post, a weekly newspaper that was formerly known as the Cleveland Call.

Every day of Morgan’s life was spent experimenting to come up with fresh concepts. Even though he developed the traffic signal during the height of his career, and it went on to become one of his most well-known innovations, it was just one among many that he developed, and sold over the years.

Morgan designed a zigzag stitching add-on for the sewing machine that was operated manually. In addition, he started a company that made personal grooming products like a pressing comb with curved teeth and hair coloring creams.

As word of Morgan’s life-saving discoveries traveled across North America and England, the demand for these products grew. At public gatherings and conventions, he received invitations frequently to display his inventions.

Morgan died on August 27, 1963, at the age of 86. However, his long and successful life was characterized by the appreciation of his artistic abilities.

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