The National Business League

Founded by Dr. Booker T. Washington – August 23, 1900


Lewis Latimer

Lewis Latimer

Invented carbon filament that made electric light bulbs last longer

Lewis Latimer patented several innovations during his lifetime, but he is perhaps best known for inventing a carbon filament that enabled incandescent lightbulbs burn much longer. He was also an expert patent witness for Thomas Edison, published books and poetry, served in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War, and was a social activist.

Latimer was born to parents who had escaped slavery. He had to drop out of school at age nine to help his family survive. Although he had very little formal education, Latimer taught himself how to sketch patent drawings. His work was so good that Alexander Graham Bell hired him to help get his patent for the telephone in 1876.

In 1881, Latimer made an important innovation that changed the way we see – a carbon filament for electric lightbulbs. Having supervised the installation of electric lighting in cities like New York, Philadelphia, Montreal, and London, Lewis felt this light should be available to everyone. In his book “Incandescent Electric Lighting: A Practical Description of the Edison System,” Lewis wrote that “Like the light of the sun, it beautifies all things on which it shines, and is no less welcome in the palace than in the humblest home.”

Lewis also invented a safety elevator that kept passengers from falling out, a book supporter to keep books arranged on a shelf, and an early version of an air-conditioner. Even though he was incredibly creative, Lewis often faced discrimination by people who worked for him. However, other famous inventors, such as Edison, Bell, and Hiram Maxim, trusted Lewis’s intelligence, skills, and resilience to help them with other famous inventions that we use today.