First Traffic Light

Cleveland, Ohio has the distinction of having the first traffic signal in America. It was located at the intersection of East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue in 1923. Today this signal light may be seen in the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum located only a short distance from where it was originally installed. The inventor was Garrett A. Morgan (1877-1963), who was black and had many other inventions to his credit. An inventor first identifies a problem and then seeks a solution. Morgan observed that horses try not to run into each other, no matter how incapable are their drivers, while the automobile's safety relies solely upon the skill of the operator. After witnessing an automobile accident at a Cleveland intersection in 1922, Mr. Morgan devised an electrically-illuminated system to help regulate urban traffic. While other "stop" and "go" systems were operated by patrolmen standing in the intersection, Morgan's system was self operating and had a third "caution" position which allowed an interval of time between conflicting traffic movements. Morgan sold his traffic signal system to General Electric for $40,000, which was a sizeable amount of money in the 1920's.
Traffic signals have not changed in the last 75 years except for having the "red" light placed above the "green" light to accommodate those drivers who were color-blind. One new change which caught the attention of the driving public came out in the 1930's. It was first installed in East Palestine, Ohio, but later abandoned. I remember riding with my parents to this Ohio town in 1935 just to see the first traffic signal that indicated when the light would change. In each colored lens were circles of light. When lit, these circles would gradually grow smaller. The moment the light disappeared, another light would be turned on. The size of the circles gave the automobile driver some indication when the traffic light would change color. In my way of thinking this East Palestine traffic light had two major benefits over today's signals. It gave the approaching driver time to brake for the "red" light and it started traffic moving sooner for those waiting for the "green" light. Probably some government official thought the disappearing circles were a distraction to the driving public and vetoed the concept.
Garrett Morgan had other inventions to his credit. He created a straightening cream for hair and a zigzag stitching attachment for the sewing machine. Perhaps his greatest invention was the gas mask that saved countless lives of American soldiers during World War I. In 1916, Morgan himself demonstrated his "breathing device" when an explosion in a gas-filled Cleveland Waterworks tunnel under Lake Erie trapped a construction crew. Morgan put on his mask and went into the tunnel to rescue survivors and carry out the bodies of the dead. Being a man of color, Morgan received no honors.