Welcome to America Comes Alive!, a site I created to share little-known stories of America’s past. These stories are about Americans—people just like you—who have made a difference and changed the course of history. Look around the site and find what inspires you.


The Inventor of the Three-Light Traffic Signal: Garrett Morgan

Despite the number of traffic lights you have stopped for in the last week, chances are good that you never thought about who invented it. We tend to take for granted these everyday items.

This morning I was preparing for my “transportation” class at UCLA’s Osher Institute when I came upon the fact that Garrett Morgan (1877-1963) was given the first patent on a three-signal traffic light, and he was the son of two former slaves. Wow. Reading about the invention had already sent me looking for more information but the “son of two former slaves” sent me over the top with excitement as a black businessman navigating through the world of business in the early 20th century is a great story.

I’ll give you a peek at some of what I learned. Garrett Morgan was born in Kentucky and went on to a successful career in business. He ran several businesses in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1920 he became a newspaperman, and the Cleveland Call became one of the best-known black papers of its day.

Car ownership was far from commonplace in the 1920s but Morgan owned a car so he was aware of the safety issues involved in driving. In that day there were few rules of the road, resulting in many accidents. Morgan came up with the concept of a three-way signal: red for stop, green for go, and an all-ways stop to give pedestrians a safe opportunity to cross. Wonderful.

If you’d like to read more stories about early roads and driving, check out “In the Days of Crank and Sputter.”

Morgan also invented several other items, and I’ll write more about him in February when we celebrate Black History Month.

Tomorrow I’ll begin sharing stories of Thanksgiving.


Kate Kelly

Kate Kelly is an engaging speaker and successful author of more than 30 nonfiction titles ranging from the bestselling Organize Yourself! to Living Safe in an Unsafe World. She has recently returned to her love of history and is writing and publishing a monthly e-letter, "American Snapshots," which she describes as "making sense of today by looking at yesterday."

Click on a tab to select how you'd like to leave your comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

This Day in History

On December 22, 1956, a gorilla was born in captivity for the first time ever.  The place was the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, and Colo, as she was named by the zoo staff, weighed approximately 4 pounds.  She is a western lowland gorilla whose parents were brought from French Cameroon, Africa in 1951.  Colo was raised by zookeepers in a nursery as her mother rejected her. Since that time, zoos have been able to create better environments so that mother gorillas can raise their young. Colo is still alive today and is now a great-grandmother.


"What can one person do?"
Read some of the stories on this site; you'll see that they revolve around single individuals who worked toward change.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

site by: Deyo Designs
Copyright © 2011-2014 Kate Kelly, America Comes Alive | Site Map
Follow Kate >
Get every new post on America Comes Alive! delivered to your inbox.