Name at birth: Garrett Augustus Morgan
Garret Morgan was an African American entrepreneur who's best known as the inventor of the gas mask and the three-way traffic signal. He was the son of freed slaves in Kentucky who began his career in a Cleveland, Ohio sewing factory in 1895. Morgan opened his own shop for the repair of sewing machines in 1907, and two years after that he opened another shop for tailoring. He went into the hair-straightening business in 1913, right around the time he was working on a "safety hood" for firefighters. The canvas hood had breathing tubes and a water-soaked sponge for an air filter; it was the precursor to the gas mask, and Morgan was awarded a patent in 1914. His three-way traffic light -- stop, go and caution -- changed America's driving habits (he sold the patent rights to General Electric for $40,000). Morgan continued as a successful business man until he died in 1963, although in his later years his eyesight was ruined by glaucoma.