Lewis Latimer was born September 4th, 1848 in Chelsea, Massachusetts to runaway slaves. He served in the United States Navy for the Union and received an Honorable discharge on July 3rd, 1865. While working in Boston as an office boy for a Patent Law Firm, he taught himself mechanical drawing and mastered the art of drawing to scale. As Latimer’s talent was becoming noticed, he was promoted from the position of office boy with a pay of $3.00 a week to head draftsman earning $20.00 a week. In 1873 he became married to Mary Wilson, and a year later, Latimer and W.C. Brown co-invented an improvement on the train water closet. Two years later Alexander Graham Bell needed a design drawn for a patent application for the telephone. With consistent labor and long working hours, Latimer was able to complete the application which was turned in on February 14th, 1876, hours before Elisha Gray could submit his design for a similar device.
After relocating to Bridgeport, Connecticut, Lewis Latimer was employed as the assistant manager and draftsman for the U.S. Electric Lighting Company. It was there that Latimer was set to compete against Thomas Edison’s light bulb by improving on the filament. He encased the filament in cardboard which prevented the carbon from breaking up, therefore extending the life of the bulb. This allowed it to be placed anywhere. Latimer was responsible for installing the first lighting in New York, Philadelphia and Montreal. He also oversaw the lighting of rail stations and government buildings extended from America to Canada and even London.
Latimer became employed by Thomas Edison in 1890 and began working in the legal department of Edison Electric Light Company. He served as a chief draftsman and patent specialist. He later authored the most comprehensive book on electric lighting, “Incandescent Electric Lighting: A Practical Description of the Edison System.” Latimer was also designated as one of the charter members of the Edison Pioneers, a group of individuals responsible for the electrical industry.
In 1894 Latimer invented the safety elevator, a great improvement for the elevator of that time. His name also holds the patent for the locking racks of hats, coats and umbrellas. He went on to create a version of the book supporter allowing books to be arranged on shelves followed by the Apparatus for Cooling and Disinfecting, a system for keeping rooms more hygienic and climate controlled. Among his many notables, Latimer was also a civil rights activist, painter and a poet. Lewis Latimer passed away on December 11, 1928, however during his lifetime he exhibited amazing imagination, skill and courage which created a path for others like him to follow. Mr. Latimer, we stand on your shoulders.
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