Meet Black Man Who Perfected The Light Bulb And Telephone [Lewis Latimer]

Growing up as a young Black child, very little is thought to you the technological ingenuity of Black men like Lewis Latimer and many other magnificent Black inventions. The school’s curriculum around the world, and especially in Africa focuses more on the Caucasian inventors of the world, leaving in the cark, the amazing contributions of the Black man.

No one teaches our children of men like Lewis. Lewis Latimer remains to date the Africans who made arguably the most impact on the world in the 20th century. He perfected the initial invention of the telephone and the durable light bulb.

Lewis was born in 1848 to an enslaved African family that fled captivity and settled in Boston. A slave owner named James B. Gray claimed ownership of his father George Latimer. Great figure of the abolitionist movement; Frederick Douglas and William Lloyd Garrison, (a white man and renowned liberator), defended the Latimer family, and George Latimer’s freedom was bought with $400.


Lewis was barely 10 when his father left home, as a small means of income, he sold William .L. Garrison’s diary.

Lewis Latimer served in President Lincoln’s navy during the American civil war, and at 17, returned to Boston. Being talented in drawing, he got employed by the Crosby and Gould firm where he worked for 11 years.

Lewis patented his first invention on February 10th, 1874. It was a water closet for railroad cars. Thereafter, he worked as an assistant to Alexander Graham Bell and in 1876, where he designed the description required for the patent filing of the telephone; in other words, a black man concluded the world-changing invention of the telephone. Afterward, Maxim Hiram, inventor of a machine gun, hires him as a designer.

Lewis Latimer | Source: Wikipedia

Lewis Latimer would later join the renowned Edison Company as an engineer. At the time, Edison’s 1879 invention of the electric bulb was only designed with bamboo filament, paper, and medium quality carbon and burned out after 30 hours.

Latimer knew there was more to be done. In 1881, Lewis alongside friend Joseph .U. Nichols patented a light bulb that had superior quality carbon filament that would become the long-lasting light bulb. Latimer brought an understanding of electrical engineering, helping Edison to promote and defend the lightbulb’s design. Latimer would later publish his own book, “Incandescent Electric Lighting: A Practical Description of the Edison System” in 1890 and continued his work as a patent consultant until 1922.

Those days, light bulbs were lighted in series, if one died, the others went off, then he came up with the concept of parallel arrangement which ended up solving the problem of other bulbs going off. This will bring about the era of electric bulbs in the world.


Lewis led the installation of the electric light system both in Philadelphia, Montreal, Canada and in London, where he mounted the incandescent lights for Maxim-Weston electric light Company.  As an associate of Thomas Edison in the engineering department of the Edison Electric Light Company, New York, he later in 1890, released the first book on the electric lighting system in the United State. It was the first of its kind.

The world-changer passed on in 1928 after a long battle with illness. This African is still celebrated to date as a revolutionary inventor of the 20th century.

His contributions are a testament to the amazing mind and ingenuity of the Black man. Till today the world enjoys his contributions to modern science.

It is because of deeds such as these that we focus more on history at Liberty Writers Africa. If the younger and future Black generations know that they are higher stakeholders in the project and advancement of humanity, they would hold their heads high and demand respect.


Note: This article initially reported that Lewis Latimer invented the Telephone and Light bulb, but actually he was the one who helped in perfecting and patenting them. We agree that the report was made in error, and have made the necessary corrections. We thank Lead Stories for pointing out this error to our team.



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