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Lewis Latimer: Bringing a Legacy to Light

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Our world is illuminated by light bulbs. Literally. So, who can we thank for their invention? Most of us immediately think of Thomas Edison. While he may get most of the limelight, he’s not the only inventor we should acknowledge. 

Here’s why:

Edison's light bulb held a carbon wire filament, which would heat up and glow (producing light) as electricity flowed through it. The oxygen-free bulb prevented the filament from oxidizing, therefore keeping it lit. Of course, this technology was a huge break-through given the alternate options of candles, gas lamps or kerosene lanterns. 

The problem? The filament in Edison’s original bulbs disintegrated rapidly, giving the bulb only a few days of power before it would need to be replaced. 

Lucky for all of us, Lewis Latimer entered the scene. 

Latimer had some pretty solid experience to bring to the table. He got his start at a patent law firm, where he learned mechanical drawing and the ins and outs of the patent industry. This position served as a gateway to becoming an inventor himself. He debuted a patent on a railroad car bathroom in partnership with W.C. Brown, and served as draftsman on the patent for the first telephone with Alexander Graham Bell. 

In 1880, Latimer began working for U.S. Electric Lighting Company, the chief competitor of Edison General Electric. His break-out moment came in 1882. He and Joseph V. Nicholas filed paperwork on the “Process of Manufacturing Carbons,” patenting a signature M-shaped filament that could last significantly longer than Edison’s lightbulb. It ultimately was known as the Maxim Lamp, named after the company’s founder Hiram Maxim.

Latimer continued to improve lightbulb filaments and mounting fixtures over the next several years, eventually going to work for Edison on his sketches and patents. Latimer then led planning teams in Philadelphia, New York City and Montreal to install the first electric plants across the United States and throughout the world. He also oversaw the lighting of railroad stations, government buildings and major roads in London, Canada and New England.

Latimer had quickly become one of the most sought-after professionals in the electricity business, ultimately revolutionizing the design and cost effectiveness of the light bulb as we know it today. In 1890, he authored the world's most comprehensive book on electrical lighting at the time: Incandescent Electric Lighting: A Practical Description of the Edison System.

Latimer's contributions to the world of energy are undeniable.

And that's not where his legacy ends. He also invented a safety elevator, a secure rack for hats, coats and umbrellas, a book supporter and an apparatus for cooling and disinfecting hospital rooms.

Latimer’s contribution of bringing sustainable electric light into homes and businesses cannot be overstated. Unfortunately, his work is often excluded from the history books. That’s why we’re honoring Black History Month by celebrating Lewis Latimer, one of the most important figures in energy industry history.








Posted: February 23, 2018