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November 20, 1923 – Garrett Morgan patents three position traffic light

Garrett Morgan with traffic light

The U.S. Patent Office granted Patent No. 1,475,074 to 46-year-old inventor Garrett Morgan on this day in 1923 for his three position traffic light. Morgan introduced the middle light to help ensure safer intersections, as previous signals had only stop and go lights. Morgan, the son of two former slaves, earned prosperity through his work as a newspaperman and hair products salesman in Ohio. He would eventually sell rights to his traffic light patent to General Electric for $40,000. In case you were wondering, the first ever traffic light was installed in London in 1868. It was a gas lit light that had to be manually operated. It exploded less than a month after it was installed, injuring the operator.

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