1914 — Garrett Morgan patents a gas mask

Although understandably primitive by modern standards, Morgan’s gas mask – or safety hood as he called it – was a considerable improvement in the state of its particular art.

Morgan, a black man in a racist age, had been inspired by reports of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire to create gear that protected the wearer from smoke and other noxious gasses. Although he got his patent, his invention was slow to catch on, and Morgan’s race was probably the major reason why.

His fortunes improved after the safety hood achieved national prominence in 1916, when he and three others used it to save the lives of two men trapped in a tunnel. For this Garrett was awarded a gold Medal of Bravery by prominent citizens of Cleveland, and additional gold medals for bravery from the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

Lack of recognition never held Morgan back – he also patented an early traffic light design, among other creations – but it was not until 1963, shortly before his death, that white America gave him the recognition he deserved.

Referenced in:

Black Man — Stevie Wonder