Friday, June 2, 2023

The Life of Lewis Latimer, American Inventor and Patent Draftsman

Blogger: Amber Lemus

While researching inventions, I came across a biography for an American inventor by the name of Lewis Latimer. His story is astounding, and he is almost never heard of, so I wanted to share his story with you all today.

Lewis' story really starts with his parents, Rebecca and George Latimer. The couple escaped slavery in Virginia by fleeing to Chelsea Massachusetts in 1842. Since George was the son of a white man and an enslaved African American mother, his skin was light, and he had many of the white features. His wife posed as a servant of his, and they escaped safely, but George's former owner put out a reward for his capture. When he and his wife reached Boston, he was immediately recognized by a colleague of his former slave owner. A few days later, he was arrested.
Lewis' Father, George Latimer
Public Domain

The news of his detention sparked a great conflict in the State of Massachusetts. Latimer was represented by Samuel Sewall, who organized meetings that came to be known as the "Latimer Meetings." According to some sources, Fredrick Douglass was also involved in George's defense. The trial ended with George purchasing his own freedom from his former owner for the price of four hundred dollars. However, the case led to fundraising, petitions, and even the 1843 Liberty Act which is sometimes called the "Latimer Law."

After that case was settled, George and Rebecca settled in Chelsea to raise their family. On September 4, 1848, Lewis was born, the youngest of four children. During his younger years, Lewis spent time in his father's barbershop. But the happiness was not to last.

When Lewis was 10 years old, his family had to be split up. With the ruling of the Dred Scott case, slaves who had escaped to freedom had to prove that they had the consent of their former owners to become free. Lewis's father had no such proof, so he fled, leaving his family behind and hoping that his absence would make the family less of a target. Lewis's mother decided it would be best to further split up the family, so she sent Lewis and his brothers to a farm school.

At the age of 16, Lewis joined the United States Navy, and served aboard the USS Massasoit during the Civil War. He received an honorable discharge on July 3, 1865 and gained employment as an office boy in a patent office. This is where he began to show his true potential.

Lewis Latimer
Public Domain

Lewis quickly learned how to use the tools of drafting and sketching, and his boss started noticing his talent. He was promoted to draftsman, and then head draftsman, his earnings increasing with each promotion. Lewis's creativity was sparked by drafting sketches of other's inventions, and he began to tinker with some of his own.

In 1873, Lewis wed Mary Wilson Lewis, but it would be ten years before they were blessed with children. They did end up having two daughters, Emma Jeanette in 1883, and Louise Rebecca in 1890.

In 1874, Lewis registered his first patent, along with his coworker Charles M. Brown. Together, they had developed a system for water closets in rail cars. A couple years after that, Lewis was hired by Alexander Graham Bell to draft the drawings that would be needed to register the patent for Bell's telephone.

In 1879, Lewis moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut and started working for a competitor of Thomas Edison, the US Electric Lighting Company owned by Hiram Maxim. It was here that he made his most well-known innovation. He was working on improving the filaments inside the light bulbs so they could last longer and be more cost-effective. Lewis successfully invented a modification to the filament process that made it more durable, and therefore more affordable to the public. These filaments were substantially safer than gas lamps, but also less harsh than some of the prior inventions such as arc lights. His invention transformed the average American home after nightfall.

Lewis was an incredibly intelligent man, who could speak and translate into German and French, and could teach workers how to create a light bulb from beginning to end, including the glass blowing formation of the bulb. He registered several patents during his lifetime, including a fore-runner to our modern day Air Conditioner.

After leaving the US Electric Lighting Company, Lewis went on to work with Thomas Edison, became a patent inspector, an expert witness, an author of several books, a teacher, and a member of the Board of Patent Control.

Despite many societal challenges, Lewis was able to become a successful inventor and was respected in his field. He was accepted into the Edison Pioneers, an exclusive group of 100 innovative minds, and he was the first person of color to attain that honor. He was also an early advocate of Civil Rights

Lewis Latimer passed away on December 11, 1928 at the age of 80, but his legacy remained. There is a museum in New York with his family's home dedicated to the inventor, the invention program at MIT is named after him, as well as several schools also being named in his memory. Finally, Lewis was inducted into the National Inventor's Hall of Fame in 2006. 

Light Bulb by Lewis Latimer
Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Two-time winner of the Christian Indie Award for historical fiction, Amber Lemus inspires hearts through enthralling tales She has a passion for travel, history, books and her Savior. This combination results in what her readers call "historical fiction at its finest".

She lives near the Ozarks in her "casita" with her prince charming. Between enjoying life as a boy mom, and spinning stories out of soap bubbles, Amber loves to connect with readers and hang out on Goodreads with other bookish peoples.

Amber is a proud member of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association. Visit her online at and download a FREE story by subscribing to her Newsletter!



  1. Thank you for this post today. I think the entire Latimer family has an amazing story. When I turn on my lights, I will try to remember Lewis Latimer as well as Thomas Edison.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Connie. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. When it comes to inventions, there are usually at least half a dozen people who make a functioning item possible, but we only hear about one. So I think it is fun to learn about the lesser known minds.

  2. I don't often comment, but I always enjoy your blogs. Thanks for sharing such interesting content. Best wishes.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment and let me know you enjoyed the post. That's so helpful for me. Have a wonderful day, Caroline.

  3. I enjoyed reading about Lewis, also! I live in the SW Missouri Ozarks!

    1. Oh wow! Are you attending StoryFest in Saint Louis this year?

  4. What an interesting/impressive man! I am catching up on about a weeks worth of HHH blog post with some spare time.

  5. I loved this! Why haven't I heard of him before?

    1. Right?! I love learning about these lesser known inventors. I'm so glad you did too. Thanks for stopping by and being such a consistent part of our HHH community, Connie. <3