African-American Studies

When It Comes To Lightbulbs, Inventor Lewis Latimer Should Come To Mind

When you think of the invention of the lightbulb, surely Thomas Edison's name comes to mind first. (Whether or not it was really he who invented it is another thing...) Not so fast! You have a man named Lewis Latimer to thank for giving the bulb a serious and necessary upgrade.

Who Was He?

Lewis Latimer was the son of runaway slaves, and fought for the Union during the Civil War before being honorably discharged. He went on to patent a variety of inventions, including functioning bathrooms for railway cars and a locking coat rack. He was also integral in the patenting of the telephone and in the development the electric light, accomplishments that are all the more impressive given the prejudices of the time. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell recruited him to draft the drawings of the telephone for its patent application. Latimer submitted them mere hours before another application for a similar invention by Elisha Gray. Later, Latimer took on the challenge of improving Edison's light bulb design, having been hired by Edison's rival Hiram Maxim. Edison's bulbs burned out within a few days due to the nature of their filaments. Latimer's filament design made the bulbs last much longer, reducing their cost and enabling electric lighting to become more commonplace. Edison later hired Latimer as a draftsman, engineer, and expert witness in patent litigation. Latimer would go on to become the only black member of the Edison Pioneers, a group of men credited with launching the electrical industry.

Things You Wouldn't Have If Black People Didn't Invent Them

Good to know!

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Lonnie Johnson, a NASA scientist, invented the Super Soaker. 00:13

  2. Benjamin Thornton created a predecessor to the answering machine, which was a device that attached to a phone and recorded calls. 01:11

  3. Lewis Latimer improved on the carbon filaments in light bulbs, ensuring that Edison's bulbs lasted much longer than they had in the past. 01:40

Written by Curiosity Staff February 7, 2016

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