Lewis Latimer was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1848. He was the son of George and Rebecca Latimer, escaped slaves from Virginia. When Lewis Latimer was a boy his father George was arrested and tried as a slave fugitive. The judge ordered his return to Virginia and slavery, but the local community to pay for George Latimers freedom raised money. George Latimer later went underground fearing his re-enslavement, a great hardship for Lewis’ family.
Lewis Latimer enlisted in the Union Navy at the age of 15 by forging the age on his birth certificate. Upon the completion of his military service, Lewis Latimer returned to Boston, Massachusetts where he was employed by the patent solicitors Crosby ; Gould. While working in the office Lewis began the study of drafting and eventually became their head draftsmen. During his employment with Crosby ; Gould, Latimer drafted the patent drawings for Alexander Graham Bell’s patent application for the telephone, spending long nights with the inventor. Bell rushed his patent application to the patent office mere hours ahead of the competition and won the patent rights to the telephone with the help of Latimer.
Hiram Maxim, founder of the U.S. Electric Light Co., at Bridgeport, CN, and the inventor of the Maxim machine gun, hired Lewis Latimer as an assistant manager and draftsman. Latimer’s talent for drafting and his creative genius led him to invent a method of making carbon filaments for the Maxim electric incandescent lamp. In 1881, he supervised the installation of the electric lights in New York, Philadelphia, Montreal, and London.
Lewis Latimer was the original draftsman for Thomas Edison (who he started working for in 1884) and as such was the star witness in Edisons infringement suits. Lewis Latimer was the only African American member of the twenty-four “Edison Pioneers”, Thomas Edison’s engineering division of the Edison Company. Latimer also co-authored a book on electricity published in 1890 called, “Incandescent Electric Lighting: A Practical Description of the Edison System.”
Lewis Latimer had many interests. He was an inventor, draftsman, engineer, author, poet, musician, and, at the same time, a devoted family man and philanthropist. He married Mary Wilson on December 10, 1873. Lewis wrote a poem for his wedding entitled Ebon Venus that was published in his book of poetry, Poems of Love and Life. The Latimers had two daughters, Jeanette and Louise.
Some other patents of Lewis Latimer
Lewis Howard Latimer – U.S. Patent #247,097 (co-inventor Joseph V. Nichols) – 9/13/1881 – Electric lamp
Lewis Howard Latimer – U.S. Patent #252,386 – 1/17/1882 – Process of manufacturing carbons
Lewis Howard Latimer – U.S. Patent #557,076 – 3/24/1896 – Locking rack for hats, coats, and umbrellas