Black News and News Makers in History: Lewis Latimer

African American news from Pasadena - Black News and News Makers in History recognizes - Lewis Latimer this week in Black HistoryLewis Latimer, engineer and inventor, may be best known for his 1881 invention and 1882 patent for an improved process for manufacturing the carbon filaments in light bulbs, the incandescent bulb. Working alongside Alexander Bell, Hiram Maxim, and Thomas Edison, in 1918, he was a founding member, and the first African American to become a member, of Edison's exclusive research - social group of scientists, the Edison Pioneers.

Latimer was born on September 4, 1848 in Massachusetts to slaves who ran away in the 1830s... In 1864, he joined the Navy, serving on the USS Massasoit as a cabin boy during the Civil War. In 1865, Latimer joined the Boston firm of Crosby and Gould, patent solicitors. Initially working as an office boy, he advanced to chief draftsman and began working on his own inventions. While working at the Boston firm, he met Alexander Bell who hired him to draw the plans for a new invention, the telephone.

In 1874, his first invention was approved: the bathroom (water closet) for railway cars, using a closed bottom hopper.

In 1879, at age 31, he moved to Connecticut to work as a draftsman and, a year later, he joined the U.S. Electric Lighting Company working for Hiram Maxim where he was involved with several inventions. Those inventions included a new support for arc lights, an improvement to manufacturing filaments for incandescent bulbs, a new way to attaché the carbonized filament to the platinum wires that brought electricity into the bulb from the base, and others.

In 1882, he left to work for several electrical industry companies, but it was in 1885 that he found stable employment with the Edison Electric Light Company of New York. For Edison, he became respected for his patent expertise, his encyclopedic knowledge of lamp design and manufacturing, his drafting skills and his creative intelligence; he started in the engineering department and ended in the legal department where he was Edison's patent investigator and expert witness in cases against persons trying to benefit from Edison's inventions without legal standing.

In 1890, at the encouragement of Edison, Latimer published his book, "Incandescent Electric Lighting: A Practical Description of the Edison System."

In 1892, that company merged with Thomson-Houston to become General Electric and, in 1896, he became a member of the Board of Patent Control, a joint arrangement between General Electric and Westinghouse. In 1898, he was actively bringing his elevator work to the attention of Westinghouse, General Electric and Otis Elevator companies.

In 1918, as a founding member of the Edison Pioneers, the group members were business or technical affiliates of Edison or his companies who all played a role in the development of the electric utility industry.

In 1922, he retired due to failing eyesight, and in 1928, he died. Not only is he best known for the invention of carbon filaments, he also is attributed with inventing the light bulb making machine, and other inventions. Other inventions included the railroad car toilet, a forerunner to the air conditioner, a locking rack for hats, coats and umbrellas, and a book support.

He was honored to be a member of the Grand Army of the Republic (in remembrance of his serving in during the Civil War). He strived to maintain his pursuit of music, art and literature and promoted these cultural interests in his family.

1891 Lewis Latimer Quote describing the quality of the electric lamp: "Like the light of the sun, it beautifies all things on which it shines, and is no less welcome in the palace than in the humblest homes"

Compiled from: http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventors/latimer.htm