Lewis H. Latimer
Improvement to the carbon-filament used for light bulbs
Lewis H. Latimer was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1848. Along with Granville T. Woods, Latimer was one of the first major African American inventors. He first worked as an assistant to Alexander Graham Bell.
Some have claimed that Latimer, not Bell, actually invented the telephone. However, this is unlikely because Latimer often defended Bell's claims to first inventions in court. Later, Latimer became a member of Thomas Edison's elite research team, "Edison's Pioneers." Latimer made his most important scientific contributions here by improving the light bulb that was invented by Edison.
Edison's light bulb used a carbonized bamboo filament, which unfortunately burnt out rather quickly. Latimer created a way to make the carbon filament more durable by encasing it in cardboard. Latimer went on to patent the process for efficiently manufacturing the carbon filament in 1882. Moreover, 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.
Latimer's other patented inventions include such diverse items as the first water closet (i.e., toilet) for railroad cars (1874) and a forerunner of the air conditioner (1886). Although today's light bulbs use filaments of tungsten, which lasts even longer than carbon, Latimer will always be remembered for making the widespread use of electric light possible, in public and at home.