Garrett Morgan was born in Paris, Kentucky, 12 years after the end of the Civil War to Sydney, a former slave and son of Confederate Col. John Hunt Morgan, and Eliza Reed, also a former slave.
Morgan moved at the age of fourteen to Cincinnati, Ohio in search of employment. Most of his teenage years were spent working as a handyman for a wealthy Cincinnati landowner. Like many African Americans of his day, he had to quit school at a young age in order to work. However, the teen-aged Morgan was able to hire his own tutor and continued his studies while living in Cincinnati.
In 1895, he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he worked repairing sewing machines for a clothing manufacturer. He married his first wife, Madge Nelson, in 1896, but that marriage ended in divorce.
In 1909, he expanded his business to include a tailoring shop. The company made coats, suits, dresses, and other clothing. Morgan experimented with a liquid that gave sewing machine needles a high polish and prevented the needle from scorching fabric as it sewed. Accidentally, Morgan discovered that this liquid not only straightened fabric but also hair. He made the liquid into a cream and began the G. A. Morgan Hair Refining Company. He also made a black hair oil dye and a curved-tooth iron comb in 1910, to straighten hair.
His business was profitable enough to allow him to build a home at 5204 Harlem Ave. in Cleveland, where he later brought his mother to live, after his father died.
In 1916 he helped to found the Cleveland Call newspaper, and subsequently participated in a 1928 merger that created the Call and Post newspaper.
Garrett and Mary’s marriage lasted more than 50 years, until their deaths in the 1960s. Mary came from a big family, but she had little contact with her relatives after she married a black man. She was even excommunicated from her Catholic faith. Sandra Morgan, who still keeps Mary’s rosary and her Bible written in German, believes it hurt her grandmother deeply.