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Lewis Howard Latimer

Lewis Howard Latimer was an American inventor and patent draftsman. His inventions included an evaporative air conditioner, an improved process for manufacturing carbon filaments for light bulbs, and an improved toilet system for railroad cars. The light bulb itself was perfected by Thomas Edison, but the innovation used to create longer-lasting light bulbs with a carbon filament came from African American inventor Lewis Latimer. Latimer, the son of formerly enslaved people, began work in a patent law firm after serving in the military for the Union during the Civil War. He was recognized for his talent in drafting patents and was promoted to head draftsman, where he co-invented an improved bathroom for railroad trains.

His successes would garner him further attention from the U.S. Electric Lighting Company, putting him at a company in direct competition with Edison, in 1880. While there, Latimer patented a new filament for the light bulb, using carbon instead of more combustible materials, like bamboo, that was commonly used for filaments. The addition of the carbon filament increased the life span and practicality of light bulbs, which had previously died after just a few days. In 1884, he went on to work with Edison at the Edison Electric Light Company.

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