ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Lewis Latimer's Bright Idea

Updated on December 23, 2012

Everyone knows the common everyday light bulb was invented by Thomas Edison. Well, at least that’s what most of us were taught in school. But, to be fair, Edison has to be given some credit because his bulbs did provide illumination for several days.

However, it was Lewis Howard Latimer, his assistant, who many feel deserves the most recognition. Latimer found a way to prevent carbon in the filament from breaking, thereby extending its life and making them cheaper to produce commercially. He is to also be credited with designing a threaded wooden socket for them. Lewis was the only African American member on Edison’s 24 member team and is considered one of the 10 foremost Black inventors in history. Lewis Latimer was also a draftsman, engineer, author, poet and musician.

Perhaps, his work on the light bulb overshadowed much of his other work. He had a great number of other inventions under his belt, for instance his work on the safety elevator. Latimer was also a co-author of a book on electricity published in 1890 titled, "Incandescent Electric Lighting: A Practical Description of the Edison System.

Latimer was the humble son of runaway slaves from Virginia who settled in Chelsea, Massachusetts, where he was born September 4th, 1848. His father, George, was captured and would have certainly been sent back to Virginia had it not been for abolitionists who bought his freedom. Fearing re-enslavement, George went underground.

During the Civil War, Lewis lied about his age and joined the United States Navy at 15. He served aboard the U.S.S. Massasoit gunboat. After being honorably discharged on July 3, 1865, he took an entry level job in a patent office. His skill at sketching patent drawings allowed him to become a draftsman, and eventually head draftsman with the patent law firm, Crosby and Gould. He made $20.00 a week. In November of 1873 he married Mary Wilson.

The next year Latimer, working with a W.C. Brown, the duo made major improvements in water closets aboard railroad trains. That’s what folks called the bathroom compartment in those days.

In 1876 Alexander Graham Bell, at the time a teacher for deaf children, asked Latimer to draft a drawing necessary for a patent application…the telephone. Latimer worked hard to finish it. The patent was submitted February 14, 1876, mere hours before another application was submitted for a similar device.

Latimer relocated to Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1880, shortly after his 31st birthday. There he found employment as an assistant manager and draftsman for the U.S. Electric Lighting Company. Ironically, the company was owned by Hiram Stevens Maxim, Thomas Edison’s chief competitor. Maxim was the man who invented the Maxim machine gun.

Not long afterwards the company moved to Brooklyn, and Latimer went with it. He took on additional assignments assisting in arc and incandescent installations of Maxim equipment not only in New York, but Philadelphia, and Montreal as well. His last assignment for the company was in London, advising the English on establishing a lamp factory.

Latimer decided to remain in London and began sketching drawings for elevator improvements. Although they were never patented, he continued working on them. By 1898, Latimer had submitted his work to the attention of various elevator manufacturers including Westinghouse, General Electric, and Otis Elevator companies. However none seemed to be particularly interested. Notwithstanding, the elevator remains a symbol of Latimer's pursuit of making the American dream become a reality for all.

Latimer was forced to retire in 1922 because of failing eyesight although he continued to invent and teach drafting skills until his death in 1928. He will forever be remembered by a grateful nation as a pioneer in developing the electric light bulb.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image

      Minjae Oh 

      5 years ago

      Thank you JY..... it helped me a lot in homework and I get to learn about him more... HAVE A GREAT DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Mamma always said not to hide my light under a basket.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      Thanks, JY, for shining a light on the inventive career of Louis Latimer.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)