February is Black History Month. To celebrate, EEI is recognizing Lewis H. Latimer, one of Thomas Edison's charter "pioneers.”
A talented engineer, draftsman and prolific inventor, Latimer was born on September 4, 1848, in Chelsea, Massachusetts. After serving in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War, Latimer worked in a patent law firm sketching patent drawings. Recognized for his drawing skills, Latimer was hired by the inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, to draft the drawing necessary for a patent application of Bell’s famous telephone in February 1876.
In 1880, Latimer was hired as the assistant manager and draftsman for the United States Electric Lighting Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The company's owner, Hiram Maxim, wanted to improve upon Edison's electric light bulb, which was invented the year before. Latimer devised a way of encasing the filament within a cardboard envelope. This prevented the carbon from breaking, thereby prolonging the life of the bulb. The new long-life bulb became more economical and more energy efficient. As a result, the light bulb soon was installed in more homes and throughout streets.
As more major cities began wiring their streets for electric lighting, Latimer was sent to lead the planning teams. He helped to install the first electric plants in Philadelphia, New York City, and Montreal, and oversaw the installation of lighting in railroad stations, government buildings, and major streets in Canada, New England, and London.
On January 24, 1918, Latimer was named one of the 28 charter members—and the only African-American member—of the "Edison Pioneers," a distinguished group of people who worked to keep alive the ideals and aims of Edison. The “Edison Pioneers” are deemed responsible for creating the nation's electrical industry. Latimer continued to display his creative talents over the next several years, receiving patents for a variety of inventions including a safety elevator. Latimer died on December 11, 1928, leaving behind a legacy of achievement and leadership.