Lewis Howard Latimer
Made Electric Lighting Practical
Lewis Howard Latimer (1848-1928), inventor, scientist; born in Chelsea,
Mass. Latimer served in the Union Navy in 1863, studied drafting, and later
invented and patented an incandescent light bulb with a carbon filament
in 1881. He served as an engineer for the Edison Company for many years,
and while with Edison supervised the installation of the electric light
system in New York, N.Y.; Philadelphia, Pa.; Montreal, Canada; and London,
England. Latimer wrote the first textbook on the lighting system used by
the Edison Company, and he was employed by Alexander Graham Bell to make
patent drawings for the first telephone. He also served as chief draftsman
for General Electric and Westinghouse companies.
Lewis Latimer was known as a "Renaissance" man, a man of
many talents. An accomplished poet, painter, playwrite, musician as well
as a pioneering engineer, he overcame many obstacles without having any
doubts about his talents. Recognizing that Thomas Edison's bamboo filament
was impractical (Edison's original bulb lasted only 30 hours before burning
out), Latimer invented the carbon filament, thus making the light bulb
So, the next time you stare out at the lighted skyline of a city, think
of the man who made the light bulb practical; Lewis Howard Latimer.
Above left: A young Lewis Howard Latimer. Right: Latimer's first incandescent
light bulb plus his textbook on the installation of incandescent lighting
(the first ever written on the subject).
References: Low and Clift, The Encyclopedia of Black America. Interview
with Dr. Winefred Latimer Norman (his granddaughter) in 1992.
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