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LEWIS HOWARD LATIMER

Lewis Howard Latimer, who supervised the installation of public Electric Lights throughout London, shown here at 133 Lewisham High Street, in the Victorian era, 1882.

In 1881, Latimer, along with Joseph Nichols, invented a Light Bulb with a carbon filament, an improvement on Thomas Edison's original paper filament, which would burn out quickly, and sold the patent to the United States Electric Company in 1881. He received a second patent on January 17th 1882 for the "Process of Manufacturing Carbons", an improved method for the production of lightbulb carbon filaments.

Lewis Howard Latimer was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on September 4, 1848, the youngest of four children of Rebecca Latimer and George Latimer. George Latimer had been the slave of James B. Gray of Virginia. George Latimer ran away to freedom to Boston, Massachusetts, in October 1842, along with his wife Rebecca, who had been the slave of another man. When Gray, the owner, appeared in Boston to take them back to Virginia, it became a noted case in the movement for abolition of slavery, gaining the involvement of such abolitionists as William Lloyd Garrison. Eventually funds were raised to pay Gray $400 for the freedom of George Latimer.

Lewis Latimer joined the U.S. Navy at the age of 15 on September 16, 1863, and served as a Landsman on the USS Massasoit. After receiving an honourable discharge from the Navy on July 3, 1865, he gained employment as an office boy with a patent law firm, Crosby Halstead and Gould. He learned how to use a set square, ruler and other tools. Later, after his boss recognised his talent for sketching patent drawings, Latimer was promoted to the position of head draftsman earning $20.00 a week by 1872.

The Edison Electric Light Company in New York City hired Latimer in 1884, as a draftsman and an expert witness in patent litigation on electric lights. While at Edison, Latimer wrote the first book on electric lighting, Incandescent Electric Lighting (1890) and supervised the installation of public electric lights throughout New York, Philadelphia, Montreal, and London. When that company was combined in 1892 with the Thomson-Houston Electric Company to form General Electric, he continued to work in the legal department. In 1911, he became a patent consultant to law firms.

 

For 25 years, from 1903 until his death in 1928, Lewis Howard Latimer lived with his family in a home on Holly Avenue in what is now known as East Flushing section of Queens, New York. Lewis Howard Latimer died on 11 December 1928, at the age of 80.

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