|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
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 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
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.
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