8. Inventor Garrett Morgan developed a reliable smoke hood for firefighters
Garret Morgan possessed only a sixth-grade formal education, though he hired tutors while working as a handyman in Cincinnati, starting at the age of fourteen. An inquisitive mind and a penchant for tinkering with machinery led him to working as a sewing machine repairman in Cleveland, Ohio by 1895. In 1907 he opened his own sewing machine shop. A year later he expanded into retail, manufacturing and selling women’s clothing at Morgan’s Cut Rate Ladies Clothing Store in Cleveland. Having observed the difficulties and dangers encountered by firefighters dealing with smoke inhalation he designed and built a fire hood, patented in 1912. Recognizing that cooler, less polluted air remained at the floor level during a fire, Morgan included a breathing tube which dangled below the knees, allowing the wearer to respirate cleaner air.
He traveled the country to market his device, which gained national fame after its successful use in rescuing workers in a tunnel fire beneath Lake Erie in 1916. Nonetheless, when marketing his device in the American South, he frequently hired White actors to pose as its inventor. Sometimes he posed as an Indian, earning the nickname Big Chief Mason. He later patented several other inventions, including hair care products, improved sewing machine needles, and a modified three signal traffic light. He remained an active Cleveland community leader throughout his life, created a newspaper named the Cleveland Call, and the Cleveland Association of Colored Men, which later merged with the NAACP. For the last 20 years of his life Morgan suffered from glaucoma, rendering him functionally blind, though he continued to serve as a leader of the Cleveland community until his death in 1963.