Lewis Howard Latimer

Harmar celebrates Black History.

Throughout February, we’ll be shining a spotlight on pioneers, innovators, difference makers, and history shakers that have shaped our world.

Veteran. Inventor. Author. Whether you realize it or not, Lewis Howard Latimer helps shine a light on you every day.

American Inventor Lewis Latimer

Inventor Lewis Howard Latimer

Latimer was born in 1848, in Chelsea, MA, to parents that had escaped slavery in Virginia. When Latimer was 10 years old, his family was torn apart when his father had to flee, to help protect his family from the Dredd Scott ruling. (Latimer’s father could have potentially been arrested and returned to slavery).

At 15, Lewis Latimer would join the US Navy and serve 2 years as a Landsman aboard the USS Massasolt. After his discharge, he would go to work in a patent law firm. He taught himself to use many of the drafting tools in the office, as at that time, all patents were filed with drawings. His talents were recognized and he was promoted to head draftsman.

While not the only patents he would be a part of, his most famous work came alongside Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison.

In 1876 Mr. Latimer was hired by Bell to draft the drawings that would eventually lead to the patent on Bell’s telephone.

In 1879 Latimer would go to work for the U.S. Electric Lighting Company, owned by Hiram Maxim, and a contemporary competitor of Thomas Edison. While at U.S. Electric, Latimer would help develop the carbon filament for lightbulbs, dramatically improving their effectiveness and making them practical for consumers.

He would also go on to patent a method for mass-producing carbon fiber filaments, helping to again push electric lighting forward and making it more accessible.

In 1884, Thomas Edison would finally lure Latimar away from Maxim and bring him to Edison’s firm. In his time with Edison, he could go on to earn several more patents, including one of the first air conditioners.

In 1918, along with others who had worked with Edison, Mr. Latimer would become a founding member – and the only African-American – of the Edison Pioneers. This group was dedicated to the spirit of invention and discovery

In total, Lewis Howard Latimer would be created with 8 patents, he wrote the first technical book on Electric Lighting, published a book of poems, and contributed several pieces to numerous journals of the time. His family’s home is a historic landmark now and an inventors program at MIT is named in his honor.

Harmar salutes Lewis Howard Latimer.

Learn more about Mr. Latimer at BlackPast.org & Biography.com.