Garrett Morgan received a patent for the 3-position traffic light. His was different and unique due to the third position. Existing traffic signals only had “stop” and “go”, causing confusion in the intersections when the signals changed.
After witnessing a terrible accident, Morgan thought a “warning” signal (the ancestor to today’s yellow light) would give drivers a chance to slow down and exercise caution when entering an intersection. He sold the rights to his invention to General Electric for $40,000.
Morgan had already made his mark as an inventor in 1914 when he invented a Safety Hood and Smoke Detector. He made national news in 1916 when he wore his gas mask and rescued people trapped in a burning building. Fire departments across the country began ordering the safety masks and a refined version was used by the U.S. Army in WWI.
Morgan’s parents were both former slaves. He moved from Kentucky to Ohio at the age of 14 and got a job as a handyman. He eventually opened his own sewing machine repair shop and eventually added a garment business on the side. He was a very successful businessman and was able to acquire enough money to open a newspaper, The Cleveland Call, which would become one of the most important black newspapers in the country.