Did Lewis Latimer, an African-American man from Massachusetts who was bought from slavery, invent the light bulb and telephone? No, that's not true: Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, and Thomas Edison invented the first light bulb. But, Latimer did play an important role in helping both inventions become more refined and patented in the late 1800s.
The claim originated from an article (archived here) where it was published by Liberty Writers Africa on May 26, 2019, under the title "Meet Black Man Who Invented The Light Bulb And Telephone [Lewis Latimer]". It opened:
Growing up as a young Black child, very little is thought to you about Black inventors like Lewis Latimer and magnificent Black civilizations. The school's curriculum around the world, and especially in Africa focuses more on the Caucasian inventors of the world.
No one teaches our children of men like Lewis. Lewis Latimer remains to date the Africans who made the most impact on the world in the 20th century. He co-founded the telephone and the durable light bulb.
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Latimer became a skilled patent draftsman in the post-Civil War period, which gave way to several inventions and advancements in American technology. In working with Bell on the telephone, Latimer drafted the patent for the telephone's design.
Latimer did have a few inventions of his own, too. He developed an improvement to railroad car bathrooms and an early air-conditioning unit. But perhaps his biggest contribution was a carbon filament for lightbulbs that was more durable.
Latimer brought an understanding of electrical engineering, helping Edison to promote and defend the lightbulb's design. Latimer would later publish his own book, "Incandescent Electric Lighting: A Practical Description of the Edison System" in 1890 and continued his work as a patent consultant until 1922.
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