Celebrate Black History
Lewis Howard Latimer was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts on September 4, 1848, and was the youngest of five children of Rebecca Latimer (1826–1910) and George Latimer (July 4, 1818 – May 29, 1896). George Latimer had been the slave of James B. Gray of Virginia. George Latimer ran away to freedom inTrenton, New Jersey in October,1842, along with his wife Rebecca, who had been the slave of another man. When Gray, the owner, appeared in Boston to take them back to Virginia, it became a noted case in the movement for abolition of slavery, gaining the involvement of such abolitionists as William Lloyd Garrison. Eventually funds were raised to pay Gray $400 for the freedom of George Latimer. Lewis Latimer joined the U.S. Navy at the age of 15 on September 16, 1863, and served as a Landsman on the USS Massasoit. After receiving an honorable discharge from the Navy on July 3, 1865, he gained employment as an office boy with a patent law firm, Crosby Halstead and Gould, with a $3.00 per week salary. He learned how to use a set square, ruler, and other tools. Later, after his boss recognized his talent for sketching patent drawings, Latimer was promoted to the position of head draftsman earning $20.00 a week by 1872.
Technical Work & Inventions:
In 1874, he co patented (with Charles W. Brown) an improved toilet system for railroad cars called the Water Closet for Railroad Cars (U.S. Patent 147,363).
In 1879, he moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut with his brother, William, his mother, Rebecca, and his wife, Mary. Other family members, his brother George A. Latimer and his wife Jane, and his sister Margaret and her husband Augustus T. Hawley and their children, were already living there. Lewis was hired as assistant manager and draftsman for the U.S. Electric Lighting Company, a company owned by Hiram Maxim, a rival of Thomas A. Edison.
The Edison Electric Light Company in New York City hired Latimer in 1884, as a draftsman and an expert witness in patent litigation on electric lights. Latimer is credited with an improved process for creating a carbon filament at this time, which was an improvement on Thomas Edison’s original paper filament, which would burn out quickly. When that company was combined in 1892 with the Thomson-Houston Electric Company to form General Electric, he continued to work in the legal department.
When General Electric and Westinghouse Electric Company formed the “Board of Patent Control” in 1896, to coordinate patent licensing and litigation, Latimer was employed as chief draftsman. In 1911 he became a patent consultant to law firms. In 1922
This Day In Black History (Feb. 11):
1. 1ST BLACK SECRETARY OF THE ARMY (1976) – Clifford Leopold Alexander, Jr. (born September 21, 1933) is an American lawyer, businessman and public servant. He was the first African-American Secretary of the Army.
2. SINGER KELLY ROWLAND BORN (1981) – Singer Kelly Rowland born; she is most well known as one of the founding members of the successful R&B girl group Destiny’s Child, the best-selling female group of all time, according to the World Music Awards and SonyBMG.
As a solo artist she has gained significant commercial and critical success with hits such as “Dilemma” featuring Nelly which earned a Grammy Award in 2003.
3. NELSON MANDELA RELEASED (1990) – Nelson Mandela was released from a prison after spending 27 years as a political prisoner of the racist South African government. Mandela would become the country’s first black President 4 years later in 1994.