A Lasting Legacy in Occupational Health: Garrett Morgan and the Smoke Hood
Category: News , News and Updates • February 7, 2023

When most people think of Garrett Morgan, they think of the traffic light. However, Morgan’s inventions went far beyond that.

In fact, his smoke hood (predecessor to the gas mask) helped save eight individuals following a tunnel explosion in Cleveland, Ohio. This invention is just one example of how occupational health and safety has benefited from Morgan’s creativity.

Today, occupational health and safety professionals continue to build on Morgan’s legacy to keep workers safe and healthy. Specifically, here’s more about Morgan’s smoke hood:

Borne from the Ashes of Tragedy: The Smoke Hood

Garrett Morgan had a particular vision when he developed the smoke hood. This revolutionary invention, which he patented in 1914, was designed as a canvas-based hood to be placed fully over the head.

“A double tube extended from the hood and merged into a single tube at the back,” as explained by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “The open end held a sponge soaked with water to filter out smoke and to cool incoming air.”

Morgan was inspired to create such a device following the New York Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire on March 25, 1911. That day, 146 workers — most of whom were young female immigrants — died in the fire.

“The incident put the inadequacy of fire codes and safety equipment on national display, and Morgan, who had himself once worked in Cleveland’s booming garment industry, decided to try his hand at an effective mask,” Scientific American explains. “He attacked a problem that had stymied inventors for years: smoke inhalation.”

Through the Fire and Fumes

In 1916, workers hit a pocket of natural gas while drilling for a fresh water supply under Lake Erie. As a result, a tragic explosion trapped several workers, leading to two rescue attempts that not only failed but caused the death of several would-be heroes.

Thus, Garrett Morgan was called to the scene.

While he was the first to enter the tunnel, he did not go alone — his brother and other helpers joined him for this daring rescue mission. Using his innovative smoke hood, he managed to save the surviving eight workers from certain death within the tunnel.

Unfortunately, this noble act of courage took its toll on Morgan, as exposure to fumes impacted his health for years following; what’s more, due to prevalent discrimination, Morgan’s heroism went largely unrecognized for a long time.

Lauding Garrett Morgan’s Legacy

Overall, inventor Garrett Morgan‘s smoke hood is a testament to his ingenuity and dedication to occupational health and safety.

The invention of the smoke hood was inspired by tragedy, yet it has had a lasting legacy in helping protect workers from hazardous conditions. His bravery in rescuing eight individuals during the Lake Erie tunnel explosion further demonstrates his commitment to protecting lives with this revolutionary device.

To this day, Garrett Morgan’s work continues to be an inspiration for those working towards better occupational health standards around the world. He will forever remain one of history’s heroes who made significant contributions to improving safety in workplaces everywhere.