Latimer Place

Lewis Howard Latimer was an African American inventor and humanist. Born free in Massachusetts, Latimer was the son of fugitive slaves George Latimer and Rebecca Smith, who escaped from Virginia to Boston in 1842. Upon arrival, George Latimer was captured and imprisoned, which became a pivotal case for the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts. His arrest and the ensuing court hearings spurred multiple meetings and a publication, “The Latimer Journal and the North Star,” involving abolitionists like Frederick Douglass. The large collective effort eventually gained George his freedom by November 1842.

Against this backdrop, Lewis Latimer was born in 1848. Latimer’s young life was full of upheaval as his family moved from town to town while tensions in the country continued to mount before the Civil War broke out in 1861. In 1864, Latimer joined the Union Navy at age 16. After the conclusion of the war, Latimer was determined to overcome his lack of formal education; he taught himself mechanical drawing and became an expert draftsman while working at a patent law office. He went on to work with three of the greatest scientific inventors in American history: Alexander Graham Bell, Hiram S. Maxim and Thomas Alva Edison. Latimer played a critical role in the development of the telephone and, as Edison’s chief draftsman, he invented and patented the carbon filament, a significant improvement in the production of the incandescent light bulb. As an expert, Latimer was also called to testify on a number of patent infringement cases.

Outside of his professional life, Latimer wrote and published poems, painted and played the violin. He was one of the founders of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Queens and was among the first Civil War veterans to join the Grand Army of the Republic fraternal organization. He also taught English to immigrants at the Henry Street Settlement.


New York City Department of Parks & Recreation,

Lewis H. Latimer House website,

"Proceedings of the City of New York," New York City Council, 1978, v. 2, pp. 1155-1156.