Lewis Howard Latimer; The Life of A Brainiac

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Biography of Lewis Howard Latimer

Lewis Howard Latimer was an African-American inventor and a draftsman. He was born on the 4th of September 1848.

An Overview of His Biography

Lewis Howard Latimer was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts. He was the youngest out of four children. His father – George Latimer – was a slave who ran away to freedom in Boston in 1842. George ran away along with his wife who was also a slave to another man at the time.

At the age of fifteen, Lewis joined the U.S. Navy on the 16th of September, 1863. While he was in the Navy, he served as a Landsman on the USS Massasoit. After receiving an honorable discharge from the Navy in 1865, Lewis sought employment in the private sector. Then he got a job as an office boy with a patent law firm. At the law firm, he was paid $3.00 per week.

Over time, the Inventor and engineer learned how to use a set square, ruler and other tools. In 1872, his boss recognized his talent for sketching patent drawings. For this reason, Lewis was promoted to the position of head draftsman, and he began to earn 20.00 a week.

Lewis Howard Latimer Family Life

On the 15th of November 1873, Latimer married Mary Wilson in Massachusetts. Together, they had two daughters – Emma Jeanette, and Louise Rebecca.

Lewis’ first daughter – Jeanette – married Gerald Norman. Norman was the first black person to be hired as a high school teacher in the New York City public school system.

Lewis Howard Latimer Invention?

In 1883, Lewis Latimer patented a Light bulb with an improved filament.

In 1874, he co-patented an improved toilet system for railroad cars with Charles W. Brown. This was the U.S. Patent 147,363.

In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell employed Latimer to draft the necessary drawings required to receive a patent for Bell’s telephone. At that time, Lewis was a draftsman at his patent law firm.

In 1879, Lewis moved to Connecticut with his brother, mother, and wife. At the time, the rest of his family members were already living there.

After moving to Connecticut, Lewis got a job with the government. He was hired as assistant manager and draftsman for the United States Electric Lighting Company.


In 1881, Latimer and Joseph Nichols invented the light bulb using a carbon filament. This was an improved version of Thomas Edison’s original paper filament, which always burned out quickly.

They sold the patent to the U.S Electric Company the same year it was invented.

On the 17th of January 1882, Lewis received a second patent for the Process of Manufacturing Carbons. This was an improved method for the production of light bulb carbon filaments.

lewis howard latimer carbon images

Then in 1884, the Edison Electric Light Company hired Latimer as a draftsman and an expert witness in patent litigation of electric lights. While at Edison, Lewis wrote the first book on electric lighting and Incandescent Electric Lighting in 1890.

That same year, the engineer (Lewis) was assigned to a new project. On the project, he supervised the installation of public electric lights throughout New York, Montreal, London, and Philadelphia.

In 1892, the company was combined with Thomson-Houston Electric Company to create General Electric. The talented inventor continued to work in the legal department and became a patent consultant to law firms in 1911.

For twenty-five years, from 1903 until his death, Lewis and his family lived in a home on Holly Avenue. That area is  what is now known as East Flushing section of Queens, New York.

The Death of Lewis Howard Latimer

Lewis Howard Latimer died on the 11th of December 1928, at the age of eighty.

Sixty years after his death, Latimer’s house was moved from Holly Avenue. It was then moved to 137th Street in Flushing, which is about 1.4 miles away from its original location.

Lewis Howard Latimer Legacy

  • Latimer was inducted in the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his work on electric filament manufacturing techniques.
  • In honor of the inventor, the Latimer family house in Queens was moved to a nearby small park. It was then changed to the Lewis H. Latimer House Museum.
  • Latimer was a founding member of the Unitarian Church, New York.
  • Most noteworthy, a set of apartments in Flushing are referred to Latimer Gardens.
  • An invention program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was named after him.
  • An elementary school, ‘P.S. 56’ in Clinton Hill, was named Lewis H. Latimer School in his honor.


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