All That’s Black: Lewis Latimer

Lewis Latimer innovator, draftsman:

“We create our future, by well improving present opportunities: however few and small they be.”

Born to parents who’d fled slavery, Lewis Latimer taught himself the art of mechanical drawing while working at a patent firm, earning himself a promotion from office boy to draftsman.

As a draftsman, Lewis worked closely with both Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, as he designed his own inventions. As a draftsman, Latimer created an improved railroad car bathroom and what was an early air conditioning unit.

Although Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb, it is Latimer’s improved filament, which made it a practical and common device. In 1881, Latimer, with Joseph Nichols, invented a bulb with a carbon filament, as opposed to Edison’s original paper filament. In 1882 he further improved upon his design, creating an even longer-lasting lightbulb. This work got him a job at the Edison Electric Light Company (which would eventually become General Electric), where he 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.

When you turn on the light in your room, from now on, say thanks to Lewis Latimer.

By Aprille’ Morris & Emily Burke

Edited By Keshav Kant

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Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a neuroscience nerd turned Creative Consultant and Executive Director of Off Colour!

You’ve probably seen her on TikTok or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels. From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.

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