Garrett Morgan

The Gas Mask
Energy and Environment

Because of repeated incidents of firefighters being overcome by smoke when attempting to put out fires in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, Garrett Morgan (1877-1963) wanted to do something to help.

In 1914, Morgan obtained a patent for a breathing device that consisted of a canvas hood placed over the head. A double tube extended from the hood and merged into a single tube at the back. The open end held a sponge soaked with water to filter out smoke and to cool incoming air.

Shortly after receiving his patent, Morgan had a chance to put his invention to the test. In 1916, a tunnel was being constructed under Lake Erie. One night, there was an explosion in the tunnel. Three separate rescue parties entered the tunnel and never came out again. In desperation, officials that were familiar with Morgan and his device summoned him.

Morgan rushed to the scene wearing only pajama bottoms and carrying four of his safety hoods. Police and firefighters, having seen their compatriots descend into the smoky hole never to return, refused to go into the tunnel. Morgan, his brother, and two volunteers put on the hoods and went in.

Morgan and his crew went into the tunnel again and again, pulling suffocating workers and rescuers to safety. Morgan even helped save the superintendent of the tunnel project by performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on him. The feat gained much publicity for Morgan and won him numerous medals. It also helped him sell his invention to fire departments across the country. One of Morgan's other inventions was an early traffic signal, for which Morgan received a U.S. patent in 1923.