Garrett Morgan, the Black Inventor Who Created the Gas Mask

Garrett Morgan was the a son of America who saved countless lives with his inventions. Both parents were formerly enslaved; his mother was Native American and African American. His father was the son of Confederate Colonel John Hunt Morgan and an enslaved woman.

With only an elementary school education, he began repairing sewing machines and eventually opened his own shop. While repairing, he created his first invention, which was a belt fastener for the sewing machines.



Over the years, he also invented a line of hair care products, an improved traffic light, and the gas mask. The gas mask, originally called a “Smoke Hood,” was originally developed in response to the New York Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, and garnered recognition when Morgan himself used his mask to rescue nine people in a tunnel explosion. After the rescue mission, Morgan was not honored among the heroes due to his skin color, and fire departments who had ordered the Smoke Hoods cancelled their orders when they learned the inventor was a Black man. Smoke Hoods would go on to inspire the gas masks that saved thousands of lives during World War I.

Morgan was also an activist who sought to improve the lives of people, and he was one of the founders of the Cleveland Association of Colored Men, with a goal of improving the socio-economic welfare of Black people in America.