Lewis Howard Latimer

Quick Look At Latimer

Lewis Howard Latimer was an African American inventor who worked closely with Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. He was best known for his contributions to the light bulb and the telephone.

Early Life

Lewis Latimer was born on September 4, 1848, in Chelsea, Massachusetts. His parents had escaped from slavery just six years before he was born. His father was caught and captured in Boston after escaping and was represented in court by Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, before buying his freedom with the help of a minister. In 1857, Latimer's father, George Latimer disappeared, leaving Latimer's mother alone to raise their 4 kids. To help support his mother, at age sixteen, during the Civil War, Latimer lied about his age to get into the United States Navy. In 1865, he received an honorable discharge and returned to Massachusetts, where he took a job as an office boy at a law firm. He taught himself mechanical drawings by watching a draftsman, and after people at the firm noticed talent in Latimer, they promoted him to the position of draftsman.


He went from earning $3.00 a week to earning $20.00 a week. In 1873, he married Mary Wilson. Latimer co-invented an improved bathroom compartment for trains and an early A/C unit with W.C. Brown. In 1876, Latimer was sought out by Alexander Graham Bell. Bell wanted him to draft the patent drawing for the telephone, one of the most important inventions in history. In 1880, he moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he took a job as the assistant manager and draftsman for the U.S. Electric Lighting Company. This company was owned by Hiram Maxim, a rival to Thomas Edison. Maxim wanted to create a better lightbulb by focusing on the weakness of Edison's. Edison's lightbulb didn't last more than a few days. Working for Maxim, Latimer set out to create a lightbulb better than Edison's. Eventually, he was able to create a bulb that not only lasted longer than Edison's, but one that was less expensive, and more efficient. This was called the Carbon Filament Lightbulb. His lightbulb began to gain popularity across the world, and Latimer was invited to lead the planning team for the installation of his bulbs for many different cities and states. He contributed to the installation of the first electric plants in Philadelphia, New York City, and Montreal. He also oversaw the installations of his bulbs in major public areas in Canada, London, and New England. In 1890, Thomas Edison hired Lewis Latimer as the chief draftsman and patent expert of Edison Electric Light Company. Later in 1890, Latimer along with two others wrote the most thorough book on electric lighting; Incandescent Electric Lighting: A Practical Description of the Edison System. In the later years of his career, he invented safer elevators, a Book Supporter, designed to keep books organized, a way of locking hats and coats in public places to prevent them from being misplaced, and a way of making rooms and buildings more climate-controlled and sanitary. Latimer died on December 11, 1928.

Lewis Howard Latimer truly changed the way people lived through his inventions, contributions, and leadership.