September 06, 2016

On This Day September 4th...

On this day September 4th in the year 1848 - Inventor and engineer, Louis Latimer was born.

Stolen Legacy: It is Lewis H. Latimer, the African-American Renaissance man who in the late 19th century helped not only invent the light bulb, but also create the electric industry as we know it today. Yes, it’s common knowledge that Thomas Edison was the light bulb’s inventor.

Before Lewis Latimer’s carbon filament invention, light bulbs had an extremely short life span of only a few days. He additionally invented the threaded socket for the light bulb and oversaw the installation of lighting in railroad stations, government building and major thoroughfares in Canada, New England and London. He was a draftsman for Alexander Graham Bell before being hired as an assistant and draftsman for Thomas Edison.

A biography on EEI’s site states that while working for Maxim, “Latimer invented and patented a process for making carbon filaments for light bulbs,” and helped install broad-scale lighting systems for New York City, Philadelphia, Montreal, and London. Latimer holds the patents for the electric lamp, issued in 1881, and for the “process of manufacturing carbons” (the filament used in incandescent light bulbs), issued in 1882. It was roughly 1885 when he finally joined forces with Edison and began improving upon his boss’s invention.

Latimer had no formal training in science, but believed technology and innovation could help advance the plight of African Americans still reeling from slavery. That whole “STEM will save people of color!” cause is nothing new. The important thing, though, is that unlike peers like Booker T. Washington, he didn’t believe that simply learning a trade or two would be black people’s ticket to freedom. He understood how power worked structurally to disenfranchise and disempower black people, immigrants, and the poor in general. This is evidenced in both the prose and poetry he wrote during his time about electricity and society.

“The lamp embodied the relationship of art and science, and its improvement promised benefits for all classes of society,” wrote Bayla Singer, a professor at Rutgers University, in an article on Latimer and his work. “The electric light was a cause well worth serving. All of Latimer’s inventions, patented and unpatented, relate to improving the quality of life.”

His aforementioned book Incandescent Electric Lighting demonstrates an understanding of how the new technology could bring electricity to those who previously couldn’t afford it. On the electric lamp he wrote, “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.”

What’s in the DARC must come to enlightenment!

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