Latimer was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1848. He was the son of George
and Rebecca Latimer, escaped slaves from Virginia. When Lewis Latimer was
a boy his father George was arrested and tried as a slave fugitive. The
judge ordered his return to Virginia and slavery, but money was raised
by the local community to pay for George Latimer's freedom. George Latimer
later went underground fearing his re-enslavement, a great hardship for
Lewis Latimer enlisted in the Union
Navy at the age of 15 by forging the age on his birth certificate. Upon
the completion of his military service, Lewis Latimer returned to Boston,
Massachusetts where he was employed by the patent solicitors Crosby &
Gould. While working in the office Lewis began the study of drafting and
eventually became their head draftsmen. During his employment with Crosby
& Gould, Latimer drafted the patent drawings
for Alexander Graham Bell's patent application for the telephone, spending
long nights with the inventor. Bell rushed his patent application to the
patent office mere hours ahead of the competition and won the patent rights
to the telephone with the help of Latimer.
Lewis Latimer - Water Closet For Railroad Cars
Maxim, founder of the U.S. Electric Light Co., at Bridgeport, CN, and
the inventor of the Maxim machine gun, hired Lewis Latimer as an assistant
manager and draftsman. Latimer's talent for drafting and his creative genius
led him to invent a method of making carbon filaments for the Maxim electric
incandescent lamp. In 1881, he supervised the installation of the electric
lights in New York, Philadelphia, Montreal, and London.
Lewis Latimer was the original draftsman
for Thomas Edison (who he started working for
in 1884) and as such was the star witness in Edison’s infringement suits.
Lewis Latimer was the only African American member of the twenty-four "Edison
Pioneers", Thomas Edison's engineering division of the Edison Company.
Latimer also co-authored a book on electricity published in 1890 called,
"Incandescent Electric Lighting: A Practical Description of the Edison
Lewis Latimer had many interests.
He was an inventor, draftsman, engineer, author, poet, musician, and, at
the same time, a devoted family man and philanthropist. He married Mary
Wilson on December 10, 1873. Lewis wrote a poem for his wedding entitled
Venus that was published in his book of poetry,
Poems of Love and
Life. The Latimers had two daughters, Jeanette and Louise.
page > Part Two - The Patents of Lewis