Lewis Latimer

Improvement to the carbon-filament used for light bulbs
Consumer Devices

Lewis H. Latimer was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts on September 4, 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, drawing the blueprints for Bell’s patent for the telephone in 1876.  

Latimer joined the U.S. Electric Lighting Company in 1880 under Hiram Maxim. This year saw Thomas Edison patent his light bulb which used a carbonized bamboo filament that burnt out rather quickly.  

Around this time, Latimer created a way to make the carbon filament more durable by encasing it in cardboard and went on to patent the process for efficiently manufacturing the carbon filament in 1882. His invention made incandescent lighting practical and affordable and was also longer lasting than earlier filaments. 


Latimer's patent for the process of manufacturing carbons


In 1884, he went to work for Thomas Edison at the Edison Electric Light Company in New York as an engineer and legal member, helping him in the patent filing process.  

Latimer wrote, "Incandescent Electric Lighting: A Practical Description of the Edison System", a book on electric lighting in 1890 and supervised the installation of public electric lights throughout New York, Philadelphia, Montreal, and London. 

In 1918, Latimer became a member of Edison's elite research team, "Edison's Pioneers” and made his most important scientific contributions here by improving Edison’s light bulb. 

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 practical and affordable for public use and at home. 

Latimer passed away on December 11, 1928. He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006. 

* Latimer did not invent the light bulb, rather he invented modern carbon filaments which made the light bulb more practical and affordable.