Cosmopolitan Review: October 12 - October 18
Yvonne Delaney Mitchell | 10/12/2017, 3:02 p.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 18, PBS’s “American Experience” will feature a documentary on Nikola Tesla, the lessor known half of the duo who invented the alternating current electrical supply system. With an eye and vision of the future, Tesla worked feverishly along with Thomas Edison to create alternating current that we use every time we flip the light switch or charge our cell phones. To be even more specific, Tesla’s predictions for the future made more than a century ago shaped the wireless networks of the 21st century.
But wait a minute! We can’t mention Tesla, Edison or anyone else connected with electricity, especially Con Edison, without mentioning the name of a Black man, Lewis Latimer. The son of George and Rebecca Latimer, two runaway slaves, Latimer was born in Chelsea, Mass., Sept. 4, 1848. At age 15 he joined the U.S. Navy and fought in the Civil War. After his discharge from the Navy, he took an office job that paid $3 a week. His attentiveness, innate skill and dedication led to his promotion to draftsman, earning a raise in salary to $20. Becoming well-known for his craft, he was summoned by Alexander Graham Bell to help draft and patent his invention, the telephone.
Along the winding road, Latimer’s path eventually led him to embark on improving Thomas Edison’s newly invented light bulb. Whereas Edison’s light bulb only lasted a few hours before burning out, Latimer’s created a longer-lasting light bulb. Shortly thereafter, Latimer was chosen to lead the team in improving and installing lights across major cities such as Philadelphia, New York City, Montreal and London.
In 1890, Edison hired Latimer to serve as the chief draftsman and patent expert at the Edison Electric Light Company. During his tenure there, Latimer wrote a book, “Incandescent Electric Lighting: A Practical Description of the Edison System.” Latimer became one of the charter members of the Edison Pioneers, a distinguished group of people deemed responsible for creating the electrical industry. The Edison Electric Lighting Company would eventually evolve into what is now known as the General Electric Company.
According to Blackinventors.com, “Throughout the rest of his life, Latimer continued to try to devise ways of improving everyday living for the public, eventually working in efforts to improve the civil rights of Black citizens within the United States. He also painted portraits and wrote poetry and music for friends and family. Lewis Latimer died Dec. 11, 1928, and left behind a legacy of achievement and leadership that much of the world owes thanks.”
If and when you watch the PBS documentary on Tesla, be sure to think of Lewis Latimer, an American hero.
Until next week…kisses.