Lewis Latimer 1848-1928

The Life and Inventions of Lewis Latimer

Credit: Public Domain

Lewis Latimer was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1848. He was the son of George and Rebecca Latimer, both of whom were 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 money was raised by the local community to pay for his freedom. George later went underground fearing his re-enslavement, a great hardship for the Latimer family.

 

Patent Draftman

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, Latimer returned to Boston, Massachusetts where he was employed by the patent solicitors Crosby & Gould.

While working in the office, Latimer 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.

 

Working for Hiram Maxim

Hiram S. Maxim was the founder of the U.S. Electric Light Company of Bridgeport, CN, and the inventor of the Maxim machine gun. He hired 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.

 

Working for Thomas Edison

Lewis Latimer was also the original draftsman for inventor Thomas Edison (who he started working for in 1884) and as such was the star witness in Edison's infringement suits.

Lewis Latimer was the only African-American member of the twenty-four "Edison Principles," the 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."

 

In Conclusion

Lewis Latimer was a man of many interests. He was an inventor, draftsman, engineer, author, poet, musician, 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, named Jeanette and Louise.

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Lewis wrote a poem for his wedding entitled Ebon Venus that was published in his book of poetry, Poems of Love and Life.

Ebon Venus

Let others boast of maidens fair,
Of eyes of blue and golden hair;
My heart like needles ever true
Turns to the maid of ebon hue.

I love her form of matchless grace,
The dark brown beauty of her face,
Her lips that speak of love's delight,
Her eyes that gleam as stars at night.

O'er marble Venus let them rage,
Who sets the fashions of the age;
Each to his taste, but as for me,
My Venus shall be ebony.