Because of repeated incidents of firefighters
being overcome by smoke when attempting to put out fires in his
hometown of Cleveland, Garrett Morgan wanted to do something to
In 1912, Morgan received a patent on a Safety
Hood and Smoke Protector. Two years later, a refined model of this
early gas mask won a gold medal at the International Exposition of
Sanitation and Safety, and another gold medal from the International
Association of Fire Chiefs. Morgan's safety hood — a breathing
device consisting 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. On July 25, 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
familiar with Morgan and his device summoned him.
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,
winning him numerous medals and helping him sell his invention to
fire departments across the country.
Morgan made national news for using his gas mask
to rescue several men trapped during an explosion in an underground
tunnel beneath Lake Erie. Following the rescue, Morgan's company was
bombarded with requests from fire departments around the country
that wished to purchase the new life-saving masks. The Morgan gas
mask was later refined for use by U.S. soldiers during World War I.
As word spread across North America and England
about Morgan's life-saving inventions, such as the gas mask and the
traffic signal, demand for these products grew far beyond his home
town. He was frequently invited to conventions and public
exhibitions around the country to show how his inventions worked.