Lewis Howard Latimer (1848–1928) was a Black inventor and patent draftsman who improved Thomas Edison’s original invention by patenting the use of a carbon filament which made possible the widespread use of electric light in public and at home.
Like Thomas Edison, Lewis Latimer had little formal childhood schooling. His parents had escaped slavery prior to the Civil War and were not financially stable. Latimer began working to support his family as a young boy. Largely self-taught, he eventually became a chief draftsman, patent expert, and inventor through his analytical mind and exceptional powers of observation.
Despite a lack of science education, Latimer pursued technology and innovation to help advance the opportunities of Black Americans in the post-Civil War era. His inventions all related to improving the quality of life, a core intention of Edison, as well. After securing a position at a patent law firm, Latimer taught himself drafting and mechanical drawing by observing the work of the draftsmen.
During the scientific and engineering boom of the late 1800’s, Latimer worked directly with Alexander Graham Bell to draft the patent for Bell’s design of the telephone prior to being hired by the Edison Electric Light Company in New York City in 1884. As Edison marketed his light bulb design and defended it from ongoing lawsuits, Latimer’s expertise in both drafting and patents made him an indispensable partner to Edison. In 1890, Latimer published a book entitled Incandescent Electric Lighting: A Practical Description of the Edison System.
A man of many talents, Latimer was also a painter, a musician and an author of poetry.