September 4, 1848 – December 11, 1928
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Lewis Howard Latimer was the eldest child of two enslaved people who ran away from Virginia. In fear of being recaptured, his father deserted the family when he was ten years old. Latimer dropped out of school and began working odd jobs to help support his mother and siblings. At the age of 16, he enlisted in the Union Navy and served in the Civil War.
Following the end of the war, Latimer returned to Boston and found work at a patent law firm, Crosby Halstead and Gould. While there he taught himself mechanical drawing and worked his way up to head draftsman. In the course of his duties, Latimer drew the blueprints and filed the papers for Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone patent.
Several years later he moved on to a position at the U. S. Electric Light Company in Brooklyn, New York. The new role enabled him to experiment with improvements on Thomas Edison’s light bulbs. Latimer expanded the lifespan of Edison’s light bulbs by redesigning the filament with carbon. His knowledge of electricity and lighting resulted in him managing the installation of street lights in several major cities.
In addition to being a notable inventor with contributions to seven patents, Latimer was also a talented poet, playwright, artist, musician, and teacher.
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- “Latimer, Lewis H. 1848–1928.” Contemporary Black Biography, Encyclopedia.com, 2019, www.encyclopedia.com/people/history/historians-miscellaneous-biographies/lewis-h-latimer.
- “Latimer, Lewis Howard (1848-1928).” Harvard Square Library, 29 Mar. 2017, www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/biographies/lewis-howard-latimer.
- “Lewis H. Latimer.” Lemelson-MIT Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, lemelson.mit.edu/resources/lewis-h-latimer.
- “Lewis H. Latimer: African American Inventor.” Black History in America, www.myblackhistory.net/Lewis_Latimer.htm.
- Muscato, Christopher. “Lewis Latimer: Biography, Inventions & Facts.” Study.com, study.com/academy/lesson/lewis-latimer-biography-inventions-facts.html.
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