Innovative Lives

Lewis Latimer (1848-1928): Renaissance Man

The Story of Inventor Lewis Latimer


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Educational Goals and Learnings

  1. Students will learn the story of Lewis Latimer's parents, George and Rebecca Latimer, fugitive slaves who became important symbols in the pre-Civil War abolition movement, and identify William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass as outstanding abolitionists.
  2. Students will learn the story of Lewis Latimer's life, including his military service in the Civil War, his abilities as a self-taught draftsman, the chronology of his subsequent career, and the variety of talents and interests that identify him as a "Renaissance Man."
  3. Students will learn of Latimer's contributions to science by identifying his inventions and authorship of a book on incandescent electric lighting.
  4. Students will learn of Latimer's work with the following inventors:
    1. Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone-Latimer executed the drawings for the telephone and assisted Bell in the procedures for securing a patent.
    2. Hiram Maxim, an inventor and chief engineer for the U.S. Electric Lighting Co.-while in Maxim's employ, Latimer developed a carbon filament that made the incandescent electric light bulb longer lasting, less expensive, and practical.
    3. Thomas Alva Edison, inventor of the first practical incandescent electric light bulb-Latimer worked for him as a knowledgeable electrical engineer and pioneer in the development of electricity.

Selected References

  1. James, Portia P. The Real McCoy: African-American Invention and Innovation, 1619-1930. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989.
  2. Judd, Michael. "Lewis Latimer: African American Inventor, Poet and Activist," in Magazine of History, ed. Michael Regoli. Bloomington, IN: Organization of American Historians, Winter 1998.
  3. Norman, Winifred Latimer, and Lily Patterson. Lewis Latimer. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1994.
  4. Schneider, Janet M., and Bayla Singer, eds. Blueprint for Change: The Life and Times of Lewis H. Latimer. Jamaica, NY: Queens Borough Public Library, 1995.
  5. Turner, Glennette Tilley. Lewis Howard Latimer. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Silver Burdett Press, 1991.

All text and images © Smithsonian Institution. Updated 26 February 1999.

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