November 20, 1923 - Garrett Morgan receives patent for the traffic signal
On this day in 1923, the U.S. Patent Office grants Patent No. 1,475,074 to inventor and newspaperman Garrett Morgan for his three-position traffic signal. Though Morgan’s was not the first traffic signal (that one had been installed in London in 1868), it was an important innovation nonetheless: By having a third position besides just “Stop” and “Go,” it regulated crossing vehicles more safely than earlier signals had.
Morgan, the child of two former slaves, was born in Kentucky in 1877. When he was just 14 years old, he moved north to Ohio to look for a job. First he worked as a handyman in Cincinnati; next he moved to Cleveland, where he worked as a sewing-machine repairman. In 1907, he opened his own repair shop, and in 1909 he added a garment shop to his operation. The business was an enormous success, and by 1920 Morgan had made enough money to start a newspaper, the Cleveland Call, which became one of the most important black newspapers in the nation.