November 19, 2001
Press Release, 01-54
Traffic signal patent issued November 20, 1923
Son of Former Slaves Recognized for Public Safety Inventions
Garrett Morgan, the son of former slaves, was born in Paris, Ky., and was living in Cleveland when he received patent # 1,475,024 on November 20, 1923 for the three-way traffic signal. Dependence on the automobile grew rapidly after World War I, and Morgan saw that existing mechanical "stop" and "go" signals were dangerous because they had no caution indicator to buffer traffic flow. So he patented a three-armed signal mounted on a T-shaped pole that indicated "stop" and "go" for traffic in two directions, and also had another signal for stopping traffic in all directions before the stop and go signals changed—the forerunner of today's yellow light.
General Electric bought Morgan's patent for $40,000, and his traffic management device was used throughout North America until it was replaced by the red, yellow and green-light traffic signals currently used around the world.
Garrett Morgan received wide recognition for his outstanding contributions to public safety. The gas mask he invented in 1912 (U.S. 1,113,675 issued in 1914) was used during World War I to protect soldiers from chlorine gas fumes. In 1916, Morgan wore his own mask design to rescue men trapped by a gas explosion in a tunnel being constructed under Lake Erie. The city of Cleveland honored Garrett Morgan with a gold medal for his heroic efforts in 1916.
Morgan's patents, as well as the more than 6 million patents issued since the first in 1790, can be seen on the Department of Commerce's United States Patent and Trademark Office website at www.uspto.gov.
Last year USPTO issued 182,223 patents and registered 127,794 trademarks.