The (Actually Useful) Light Bulb

Thomas Edison was widely regarded as being kind of a dick, so please understand that this blog will take any opportunity to dunk on him.


“That’s right I did.”
Lewis Latimer, 1882

See, Edison’s light bulb sucked. He famously tested thousands of different types of plant fiber to find something that could work in a light bulb, before settling on baked Japanese bamboo. While that development made it possible to use light bulbs, they still burned out quickly.

Enter Latimer, New Yorker, patent drafter, and generally Really Smart Guy. He invented improvements to the carbon filament that made them substantially more durable, so that his light bulbs lasted longer than Edison’s. For example:

Edison didn’t take kindly to competition, but he was canny enough to know when there’s money to be made. Edison hired Latimer. Latimer kept inventing, with four more patents to his name after joining Edison.

And if that isn’t great enough, he got his start drafting patent drawings for Alexander Graham Bell and generally stayed in the patent business after his inventing days were past. And to top it all off, his family published a book of his poems, titled Poems of Life and Love, for his seventy-seventh birthday. Apparently only 50 copies were made, but it’s available on microfilm at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in NY.

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