Today in 1923 Garrett Morgan was granted the patent for “Traffic Signal” U.S. Patent No. 1,475,024.

Morgan, a hard worker with an entrepreneurial spirit got his first job at the age of 14.  He started out as a handyman and then began repairing sewing machines. He saved enough money to open his own repair shop in 1907 and by 1909 he was able to open a garment shop and it was a big success. By 1920 Morgan had saved enough money to own and operate his own newspaper, the Cleveland Call.

Maneuvering the narrow streets of Cleveland could be quite tedious. The streets were busy with traffic from cars, bicycles, streetcars, and horse-drawn wagons. There was a traffic light system in place but it only had a “stop’ and “go” feature. Morgan noticed those features proved to be somewhat dangerous as they did not provide enough time for drives and pedestrians to react to the changing signal which led to numerous accidents.

Morgan witnessed a significant accident which sparked an idea; a “warning light”. A light that would be in between “stop” and “go” that would give drivers enough time to react. According to the patent application the signal is a “visible indicator which is useful in stopping traffic in all directions before the signal to proceed in any one direction is given. This is advantageous in that vehicles which are partly across the intersecting streets are given time to pass the vehicles, which are waiting to travel in a transverse direction; thus avoiding accidents which frequently occur by reason of the over-anxiety of the waiting drivers, to start as soon as the signal to proceed is given.”

Morgan ended up selling the rights to his invention to General Electric for $40,000.


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