Latimer was born September 4, 1848 in Chelsea, Massachusetts. He joined the United States Navy at the age of 15 and after receiving an honorable discharge joined a patent law firm as a draftsman at the age of 17. On February 10, 1874, Latimer shared patent number 147,363 for an improved toilet system for railroad cars called the Water Closet for Railroad Cars. This was the first of seven patents that he received over his career.
In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell employed Latimer to draft the drawings required to receive a patent for the telephone. Although Thomas Edison is credited with the invention of the light bulb, Latimer made significant contributions to its further development. On February 19, 1881 he received patent number 252,386 for the Process of Manufacturing Carbons, an improved method for the production of carbon filaments for light bulbs.
Latimer was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006 for his work on electric filament manufacturing techniques. Lewis H. Latimer School in Brooklyn, New York is named in his honor. Latimer’s biography, “Lewis Latimer: Bright Ideas,” was published in 1997.