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February 08, 2008

The real history of the light bulb


I’m currently writing a children’s book, What Color Is My Day? How African-American Inventors Affect Your Daily Life, that shows children how many conveniences that they take for granted every day were actually the result of African-American inventors.  One of the inventors I profile is Lewis Latimer.  Look over at the light bulb that is helping you read this and think about him.

Flip a switch and the light bulb instantly brightens a room. Ask any child who is responsible for that light and they will shout, “Thomas Edison!” Yes, Edison did invent a light bulb—but his bulb had such a short lifespan that it lasted only a few days.  This made it impractical for general use because to keep replacing bulbs every few days would be much too expensive for people. And, without a practical light bulb, there wasn’t much incentive for people to wire their homes with electricity. But then came African-American inventor Lewis Latimer, who had already distinguished himself by inventing a bathroom for use on trains (much to the relief of kid travelers) and who drafted the patent application for the telephone for Alexander Graham Bell.

Wanting to create a light bulb that would last longer than a few days, he devised his own bulb. His lasted so much longer that people were able to afford them, which then made it much easier to convince the average person to allow electricity into their homes. So, though Edison invented the light bulb, it was Latimer who improved it so much that people actually were able to use it.

photo of Lewis Latimer, public domain


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Congratulation! A splendid opportunity to show us what we know you know.


As Johnny Carson would have said: "I did not KNOW that!" Thanks Kareem!


This is outstanding. The guy who gave me such thrills as a little boy -- but who was always so much more than a basketball player -- is now a blogger. I look forward to being enlightened and stimulated on a regular basis by your knowledge and thoughts.

And by the way, Kareem, thanks for bringing out the best in AB17.


Kareem moves from King of the Court to statesman and mentor on the Web. It's an honor.

John Press

Kareem, much esteem and love to you!

This blog focus is important. George Washington Carver gets too much attention. His peanut inventions fail to impress. It is great to have some other and clearly impressive black inventors highlighted. I hope they make it into textbooks. I look forward to more. This is important.

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