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Lewis Howard Latimer

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The man whose work with inventions that enable homes around the world to have light and telephones, Lewis Howard Latimer was born on September 4, 1848 in Chelsea, Massachusetts.

Latimer was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on September 4, 1848. Latimer was the youngest of four children born to George and Rebecca Latimer, who had escaped from slavery in Virginia six years before his birth. Captured in Boston and brought to trial as a fugitive, George Latimer was defended by abolitionists Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. He was eventually able to purchase his freedom, with the help of a local minister, and began raising a family with Rebecca in nearby Chelsea. George disappeared shortly after the Dred Scott decision in 1857, possibly fearing a return to slavery and the South.

After his father's departure, Latimer worked to help support his mother and family. In 1864, at the age of 16, Latimer lied about his age in order to enlist in the United States Navy during the Civil War. Returning to Boston after an honorable discharge, he accepted a menial position at the Crosby and Gould patent law office. He taught himself mechanical drawing and drafting by observing the work of draftsman at the firm. Recognizing Latimer's talent and promise, the firm partners promoted him from office boy to draftsman. In addition to assisting others, Latimer designed a number of his own inventions, including an improved railroad car bathroom and an early air conditioning unit.

Lewis Latimer was an inventor and draftsman who is primarily known for his assistance in the invention and patents of the light bulb and telephone. He worked with Alexander Graham Bell in drafting the patent for the telephone and also with Thomas Edison with the light bulb. Latimer is credited with improving the initial light filament made by Edison (which would burn out quickly) with a longer lasting one. He also was the supervisor for electric lights being installed in New York, Philadelphia, Montreal and London.

Latimer patented inventions including the The Water Closet for Railroad Cars (co-patented with Charles W. Brown), a safety elevator, a device that was used in hospitals to prevent dust and particles (Apparatus for Cooling and Defecting) and others.  Although, his primary legacy will be his role in two of the world’s greatest inventions (the light bulb and telephone), Latimer’s inventions helped improve the living, health and working conditions of people universally. He was married to the former Mary Wilson Lewis and they had two children.  Latimer died on December 11, 1928 in New York City, New York at age 80.


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