Lewis Howard Latimer

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Lewis Howard Latimer
Lewis latimer.jpg
Latimer in 1882
Born(1848-09-04)September 4, 1848
DiedDecember 11, 1928(1928-12-11) (aged 80)
OccupationInventor, Author, Engineer, Patent Consultant, Draftsman, Navy Landsman (Rank)
Mary Wilson Lewis (m. 1873)
ChildrenJeanette Latimer (married Gerald F. Norman) Louise Latimer
Parent(s)George W. Latimer (1818–1896)
Rebecca Smith (1823–1910)

Lewis Howard Latimer (September 4, 1848 – December 11, 1928) was an American inventor and patent draftsman for the lightbulb and telephone.[1][2]


Lewis Howard Latimer was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on September 4, 1848, the youngest of four children of Rebecca Latimer (1823 – August 13, 1910) and George Latimer (July 4, 1818 – May 29, 1897).[3] George Latimer had been the slave of James B. Gray of Virginia. George Latimer ran away to freedom to Boston, Massachusetts, in October 1842, along with his wife Rebecca, who had been the slave of another man. When Gray, the owner, appeared in Boston to take them back to Virginia, it became a noted case in the movement for abolition of slavery, gaining the involvement of such abolitionists as William Lloyd Garrison. Eventually funds were raised to pay Gray $400 for the freedom of George Latimer.[3]

Lewis Latimer joined the U.S. Navy at the age of 15 on September 16, 1863, and served as a Landsman on the USS Massasoit. After receiving an honorable discharge from the U.S Navy on July 3, 1865, he gained employment as an office boy with a patent law firm, Crosby Halstead and Gould, with a $3.00 per week salary. He learned how to use a set square, ruler and other tools. Later, after his boss recognized his talent for sketching patent drawings, Latimer was promoted to the position of head draftsman earning $20.00 a week by 1872.[3]

He married Mary Wilson Lewis on November 15, 1873, in Fall River, Massachusetts. She was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the daughter of William and Louisa M. Lewis.[4] The couple had two daughters, Emma Jeanette (June 12, 1883 – February 1978) and Louise Rebecca (April 19, 1890 – January 1963). Jeanette married Gerald Fitzherbert Norman, the first black person hired as a high school teacher in the New York City public school system,[5] and had two children: Winifred Latimer Norman (October 7, 1914 – February 4, 2014), a social worker who served as the guardian of her grandfather's legacy; and Gerald Latimer Norman (December 22, 1911 – August 26, 1990), who became an administrative law judge.

For 25 years, from 1903 until his death in 1928, Lewis Howard Latimer lived with his family in a home on Holly Avenue in what is now known as East Flushing section of Queens, New York.[6] Lewis Howard Latimer died on December 11, 1928, at the age of 80.[1] Approximately sixty years after his death, his home was moved from Holly Avenue to 137th Street in Flushing, Queens, which is about 1.4 miles northwest of its original location.[6]

Technical work and inventions[edit]

Light bulb with improved filament patented by Lewis Latimer, 1883

In 1874, he co-patented (with Charles M. Brown) an improved toilet system for railroad cars called the Water Closet for Railroad Cars (U.S. Patent 147,363).[7]

In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell employed Latimer, then a draftsman at Bell's patent law firm, to draft the necessary drawings required to receive a patent for Bell's telephone.[8]

In 1879, he moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut, with his brother William, his mother Rebecca, and his wife Mary. Other family members, his brother George A. Latimer and his wife Jane, and his sister Margaret and her husband Augustus T. Hawley and their children, were already living there. Lewis was hired as assistant manager and draftsman for the U.S. Electric Lighting Company, a company owned by Hiram Maxim, a rival of Thomas A. Edison.

In 1881, Latimer, along with Joseph Nichols, invented a light bulb with a carbon filament, an improvement on Thomas Edison's original paper filament, which would burn out quickly, and sold the patent to the United States Electric Company in 1881.[9] He received a second patent on January 17, 1882 for the "Process of Manufacturing Carbons", an improved method for the production of lightbulb carbon filaments.[10][11]

The Edison Electric Light Company in New York City hired Latimer in 1884, as a draftsman and an expert witness in patent litigation on electric lights. While at Edison, Latimer wrote the first book on electric lighting, Incandescent Electric Lighting (1890)[12] and supervised the installation of public electric lights throughout New York, Philadelphia, Montreal, and London.[9] When that company was combined in 1892 with the Thomson-Houston Electric Company to form General Electric, he continued to work in the legal department. In 1911, he became a patent consultant to law firms.[13]



  • L. H. Latimer, Incandescent Electric Lighting (1890).[12][19]


  1. ^ a b "Lewis H. Latimer Dead. Member of Edison Pioneers. Drew Original Plans for Bell Phone". New York Times. December 13, 1928.
  2. ^ Lewis Howard Latimer, biography.com. Retrieved 2017-12-24.
  3. ^ a b c Fouché, Rayvon, Black Inventors in the Age of Segregation: Granville T. Woods, Lewis H. Latimer, and Shelby J. Davidson, Baltimore & London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-8018-7319-3.
  4. ^ Massachusetts Marriages 253:121, Massachusetts Archives, Columbia Point, Boston
  5. ^ Dick, Russell (2009). Black Genius: Inspirational Portraits of America's Black Leaders. New York: Skyhorse Publications. ISBN 978-1-60239-369-1.
  6. ^ a b c "Historic House Trust NYC". Historichousetrust.org. Archived from the original on 2008-02-16.
  7. ^ "Patent Improvement in water-closets for railroad-cars (US147363A)". US Patent - Google Patent.
  8. ^ Clarke, John Henrik (1983). Ivan Van Sertima (ed.). Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction. pp. 230–233. ISBN 978-0-87855-941-1.
  9. ^ a b "Historical Inventors: Lewis H. Latimer: The carbon-filament light bulb". MIT bio., MIT Lemelson program
  10. ^ "Lewis Howard Latimer". National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-06-10.
  11. ^ U.S. Patent 252,386Process Of Manufacturing Carbons. by Lewis H. Latimer. Application filed on Feb 19, 1881, Specified on Jan 17, 1882
  12. ^ a b Catalog Record: Incandescent electric lighting. A practical description of the Edison system, Hathi Trust Digital Library. Retrieved 2018-12- 25.
  13. ^ Gates, Henry Louis, and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, African American Lives, Oxford University Press, 2004, pp. 515–516. ISBN 0-19-516024-X
  14. ^ "List of 2006 NIHF inductees". Invent.org. Archived from the original on 2008-05-13.
  15. ^ "A Campaign To Remember An Inventor". New York Times. August 6, 1988.
  16. ^ "An Inventor Who Kept Lights Burning". New York Times. January 29, 1995.
  17. ^ "Latimer Gardens Apartments". Nyc.gov. Archived from the original on 2009-02-24.
  18. ^ "Lemelson-MIT". Mit.edu.
  19. ^ Lewis Howard Latimer; C. J. Field; John W. Howell (1890). Incandescent Electric Lighting: A Practical Description of the Edison System. New York: D. Van Nostrand company.

External links[edit]