Little Known Black History Fact: Lewis Latimer

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    In 1876, black inventor Lewis H. Latimer drew up designs for an invention made by a colleague who was a teacher of the deaf. That teacher’s name was Alexander Graham Bell and the design was for the telephone. Latimer’s design with Bell’s idea was submitted on Valentine’s Day, 1876, only two hours before another inventor, Elisha Gray, would submit a patent application for a similar device.

    Lewis Latimer was born on September 4, 1848 to runaway slaves George and Rebecca Latimer. His father was recaptured only to be set free by new abolitionist owners. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served during the Civil War. He took a job a few years after being honorably discharged with the patent law firm Crosby & Gould for $3 a week. Latimer was eventually promoted to head draftsman, and with a significant pay increase and the ability to compose his patents, Latimer would develop a number of inventions and improved several existing designs.

    In 1880, he was hired as assistant manager and draftsman for U.S. Electric Lighting Company. The owner was a rival of Thomas Edison. Latimer designed a bulb that would last longer, cost less and be able to be put in homes and on streets. He discovered that by improving Edison’s design but preventing the carbon from breaking, the bulb would last much longer. Latimer oversaw the development of the first electric plants in Philadelphia, New York City and Montreal. As a result of his improvements, railroad stations and government buildings and streets throughout the country were lined with electricity.

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