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Celebrating Black History Month

Each February, EEI celebrates Black History Month and recognizes one of the first "pioneers” of the electric power industry, Lewis H. Latimer.

Lewis Latimer was born on September 4, 1848, in Chelsea, Massachusetts. After serving in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War, Latimer began working as an office boy at a patent law firm. He quickly learned how to use the tools necessary to sketch patent drawings and was promptly promoted to be the firm’s head draftsman after management observed his incredible talent.

In 1876, Latimer was hired by Alexander Graham Bell to draft the drawing necessary for a patent application of Bell’s most famous invention, the telephone.

By 1880, Latimer had become the assistant manager and draftsman for the United States Electric Lighting Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The company's owner, Hiram Maxim, who was a rival of Thomas Edison, wanted to improve upon Edison's recently invented electric light bulb. Latimer took to the drawing board and developed a way to encase the filament within a cardboard envelope, thus preventing the carbon from breaking and prolonging the life of the bulb. The new, long-lasting bulb became more economical and more energy-efficient.

Latimer later was hired as a draftsman and expert witness in patent litigation on electric lights by the Edison Electric Light Company in 1884.

As electric lighting continued to advance, many major cities began wiring their streets. Latimer led the planning teams and oversaw the installation of lighting in railroad stations, government buildings, and major streets in Montreal, London, New York City, and Philadelphia.

Later in his career, Latimer would serve in the legal department of the newly formed General Electric, and as a patent consultant to law firms across the country.

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 the ideals of Thomas Edison alive. The “Edison Pioneers” all helped create the nation's electric power industry.

Latimer continued to display his creative talents over the next several years, receiving patents for a variety of inventions, including a safety elevator.

Lewis Latimer died on December 11, 1928, leaving behind a legacy of achievement and leadership.

Learn more about the legacy of Lewis H. Latimer