Who Was Lewis Howard Latimer?

Lewis Howard Latimer was an African-American inventor, engineer and draftsman. In addition to his own inventions, Latimer is perhaps best known for his patent work with Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison. He helped draft the patent for Bell’s telephone design and promoted and defended Edison’s light bulb design.

Born in Chelsea, Mass., to parents who escaped slavery in Virginia six years before his birth, Latimer was the youngest of four children. After serving in the Navy during the Civil War, he found work as an office boy at Crosby, Halstead and Gould, a patent law firm, and taught himself drafting and mechanical drawing by studying the work of those around him. His talent and promise were soon recognized, and he was promoted to draftsman.

Latimer’s inventions included an air-conditioning unit and an improved design for a railroad car bathroom.