Lewis Latimer, co-inventor of the telephone and the durable light bulb

Lewis Howard Latimer
Lewis Howard Latimer

Born in 1848, Latimer belongs to a family of enslaved Africans who fled bondage to settle in Boston. A slave owner named James B. Gray claims as his property George Latimer, the father of Lewis. The Latimer family is defended by William Lloyd Garrison (a white man) and by the legend of the abolitionist movement, the African-American Frederick Douglas. George Latimer’s freedom was purchased for $ 400. Lewis Howard Latimer is only 10 years old when his father abandons the family home. As a small job, he sells the diary of William L. Garrison The liberator.

At 17, after his service in President Lincoln’s navy during the American Civil War, he returns to Boston. Being gifted for drawing, he is hired by the Crosby & Gould firm. He would stay there 11 years. His first patent, which covers a water closet for railroad cars, is then recorded on February 10, 1874. He then works as assistant to Alexander Graham Bell, for whom he makes the drawings and descriptions required for the patent filing of the telephone in 1876; it is thus Lewis Latimer, a black man, who finalizes the revolutionary invention of the telephone. He is then hired as a designer at Maxim Hiram, the inventor of the machine gun.

Le téléphone tel que conçu par Graham Bell. C'est Lewis Latimer qui a achevé de concevoir cette invention majeure de l'histoire humaine.
The telephone as designed by Graham Bell. It is Lewis Latimer who finished to design this important invention in human history.

He then enters as an engineer in the famous Edison Company. Latimer is well aware that the light bulb with a bamboo filament, paper and medium quality carbon, created in 1879 by Edison, is not practical. It burns out after 30 h. In 1881, he thus patented with his friend Joseph U. Nichols, the light bulb with only superior quality carbon filament; then obtains on his own in 1882 a patent for his method of manufacture and assembly of carbon filaments. It is the invention of the long-lasting light bulb. 

L'ampoule de longue durée, avec filament incandescent solide, inventée par Lewis Latimer et Joseph Nichols
The long lasting bulb, with solid incandescent filament, invented by Lewis Latimer and Joseph Nichols

At the time, the lamps were mounted in series. When one failed, the others turned off. Lewis Latimer has the bright idea to mount the lamps in parallel, so the failure of one of them has no adverse effect on others. With these outstanding accomplishments, he actually ushers in the era of electric light in the world. Latimer directs the system installation of electric light in Philadelphia as well as in Montreal, Canada.

He leaves for London, where he is responsible for mounting an incandescent lights department for Maxim-Weston Electric Light Company. Associate of Thomas Edison at the Engineering Department of the Edison Electric Light Company in New York City, he releases in 1890 the first textbook on electric lighting system in the United States: Incandescent Electric Lighting. A practical description of the Edison System, the first ever written on the subject.


Lewis Latimer dies in 1928 after a long illness, after changing the world. It is the African inventor who had the greatest impact on the world in the 20 th century.

By: Lisapo ya Kama

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