Lewis H. Latimer
Lewis Latimer was born free in 1848; his parents George and Rebecca Latimer made sure of that. Before he was born, they fled enslavement for freedom in Massachusetts. Soon, however, George Latimer’s owner arrived and had him arrested. Immediately 300 blacks, along with white abolitionists, surrounded the courthouse in protest. In the end George Latimer was free, as his children would be.
Young Lewis was able to go to school in Boston. He loved to read and draw, and he was determined to do well. When he was 16, Civil War broke out, and Latimer joined the Navy to fight for the Union. After the war, Latimer taught himself mechanical drawing and did the patent drawings for Alexander Bell’s telephone. Latimer knew he could invent things, too. He went on to invent a longer-lasting light bulb, a toilet that worked on moving trains, an air cleaner used in hospitals, and an improved safety elevator, among other things. As an expert in electricity, he supervised the construction of lighting systems for New York and many other cities.
Latimer moved to New York in 1903 and bought a home in Flushing, Queens, where his two daughters grew up. His house was filled with culture. A true “Renaissance man,” Latimer painted; wrote poems, plays, and music; and played the flute for friends and family. And until his death in 1928, he never stopped inventing. Today the Lewis H. Latimer House is a museum filled with Latimer’s work and a member of the Historic House Trust.
This entry contributed by Curriculum Concepts International