Not Just One Inventor:
Telephone and Lightbulb
Lewis Latimer 1848-1928

Born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, the son of runaway slaves, Lewis Latimer contributed to two of the most important inventions of his time: the lightbulb and the telephone.

Lewis joined the navy at age sixteen to serve in the Civil War. In 1868, he found a job in a patent law firm where he quickly learned mechanical drawing.

With the important tool of draftsmanship, Latimer invented and assisted other inventors. In 1873 he patented a toilet system for railroad cars. Alexander Graham Bell hired Latimer to prepare the drawings for his new invention, the telephone. With Latimer's help, Bell submitted his patent on February 14, 1876, hours before his competitors.

In 1880, Latimer began work for Hiram Maxim, the founder of the U.S. Electric Lighting Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He learned all there was to know about incandescent lighting, another area of competition among inventors. Latimer traveled the nation and abroad supervising the installation of carbon filament electric lighting, and invented an electric lamp with a carbon filament and a threaded wooden socket for lightbulbs. Latimer's work extended the life of Edison's incandescent bulb from minutes to hours, thus making the product commercially viable.

By 1884 he was working for Thomas Alva Edison in New York. Latimer researched electric lighting as a member of the engineering division of the Edison Light Company, and published a text on the subject.

This remarkable self-taught man painted, played the flute, and wrote poetry and plays. Toward the end of his life, he taught mechanical engineering, drawing, and English to new immigrants, participated in Civil War veterans organizations, and supported the civil rights activities of his time.

To learn more, contact:
Lewis Latimer Society
PO Box 6145
Chelsea, Massachusetts 02150

 Black Inventors in the Age of Segregation: Granville T. Woods, Lewis H. Latimer, and Shelby J. Davidson by Ray von Fruche, 2003

Black Americans of Achievement: Lewis Latimer by Winfred Latimer Norman and Lily Patterson, 1993