Garrett A. Morgan was born in Paris, Kentucky on March 4, 1877. He was an African-American businessman and inventor whose curiosity and innovation led to the development of many useful products, including the first traffic signal. A three-position traffic signal, which Morgan was granted a patent for on November 20, 1923, was the first of its kind and a pioneer for industry traffic safety standards.
While there were manually operated traffic signals at major intersections, those devices were not particularly effective. This was because the signals alternated between only “Stop” and “Go,” without anything in between to help provide an orderly transition for traffic. This lack of advance notice for a change in signals resulted in numerous accidents in Cleveland, and Morgan – after witnessing an especially dramatic head-on collision between an automobile and a horse-drawn carriage at one of those insufficiently regulated intersections – came up with a traffic signal with an interim warning position.
Morgan’s patented invention had that signal as well as the ones for “Stop” and “Go” atop a T-shaped pole. In order to help ensure a safer and smoother flow of vehicles and pedestrians at busy intersections, the interim signal halted traffic in all directions before those other signals changed. Morgan’s device, which he eventually also patented in England and Canada, made a huge contribution to traffic safety and served as the model for the red, yellow, and green-light traffic signals used throughout the world today.