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Lewis Latimer

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Lewis Latimer

Lewis Howard Latimer
Latimer in 1882
Born (1848-09-04)September 4, 1848
Chelsea, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died December 11, 1928(1928-12-11) (aged 80)
New York, New York, U.S.
Occupation Inventor
Spouse(s) Mary Wilson Lewis
Children Jeanette (Mrs. Gerald F. Norman), Louise
Parents George W. Latimer (1818-1896) and Rebecca Smith(1823-1910)

Lewis Howard Latimer (September 4, 1848 – December 11, 1928) was an African American inventor and draftsman.

Early life

Lewis Howard Latimer was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts on September 4, 1848, and was the youngest of five children of Rebecca Latimer (1826–1910) and George Latimer (July 4, 1818 [1] - May 29, 1896). George Latimer had been the slave of James B. Gray of Virginia. George Latimer ran away to freedom in Trenton, New Jersey 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.[1] 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 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.[1]

Personal life

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.[2] The couple had two daughters, Emma Jeanette (born on June 12, 1883, died in February 1978) and Louise Rebecca (born April 19, 1890, died in January 1963). Jeanette married Gerald F. Norman, the first black hired as a high school teacher in the New York City public school system,[3] and had two children, Winifred Latimer Norman (born 1914), a retired social worker who serves as the guardian of her grandfather's legacy; and Gerald L. Norman (1911–90), who became an administrative law judge.

Technical work and inventions

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

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.[4]

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.

Latimer received a patent in January 1881 for the "Process of Manufacturing Carbons", an improved method for the production of carbon filaments used in lightbulbs.[5][6]

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. Latimer is credited with an improved process for creating a carbon filament at this time, which was an improvement on Thomas Edison's original paper filament, which would burn out quickly. [7] 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. When General Electric and Westinghouse Electric Company formed the "Board of Patent Control" in 1896, to coordinate patent licensing and litigation, Latimer was employed as chief draftsman. In 1911 he became a patent consultant to law firms.[8]


Latimer is an inductee of the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his work on electric filament manufacturing techniques.[9]

Latimer was a founding member of the Flushing, New York Unitarian Church. Latimer's home has been moved to a small park in Flushing, New York and turned into a museum in honor of the inventor.[10]

A set of apartment houses in Flushing are called "Latimer Gardens".[11]

P.S. 56 in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, is named Lewis H. Latimer School in Latimer's honor


  • U.S. Patent 147,363 "Water closets for railway cars," February 10, 1874
  • U.S. Patent 247,097 "Electric lamp," (with Nichols, Joseph V.), September 13, 1881
  • U.S. Patent 252,386 "Process of Manufacturing Carbons," January 17, 1882,
  • U.S. Patent 255,212 "Globe supporter for electric lamps," (with Tregoning, John), March 21, 1882
  • U.S. Patent 334,078 "Apparatus for cooling and disinfecting," January 12, 1886
  • U.S. Patent 557,076 "Locking rack for hats, coats, and umbrellas," March 24, 1896
  • U.S. Patent 968,787 "Lamp fixture,"(with Brown, Charles W), August 30, 1910


External links

  • IEEE
  • Lewis Howard Latimer: Inventor, Engineer (Mechanical and Electrical)
  • Bibliography about Latimer and scans of pages from his book
  • Lewis Latimer: Renaissance Man by the Smithsonian Institution
  • Teachers' guide by Luvenia George on Latimer. the Smithsonian Institution
  • "Blueprint for Change", a 1995 exhibition honoring Latimer at the which holds a collection of his papers and artifacts.
  • Lewis Latimer biography at
  • Profile of Lewis Latimer - The Black Inventor Online Museum
  • Find A Grave

Further reading

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