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3 Black Visionaries That Revolutionized Electricity

Black Inventors That Changed Home Electricity for the Modern Age

Often, black contributions to society aren’t highlighted in electrical history. Many people are unaware that some of the modern conveniences enjoyed today are because of brilliant minds that have been overlooked or understated because of the color of the inventor’s skin. 

1. Lewis Latimer and the Carbon Light Bulb Filament

Lewis Latimer was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006 because of his contribution to safer, cheaper, and longer-lasting incandescent lighting. 

Despite many societal roadblocks for black men in the 1880s, Latimer taught himself drafting, became a patent lawyer, and worked with Alexander Graham Bell on the initial patent application for the telephone. Then, Latimer created a carbon filament bulb that was safer than the gas lamps and affordable for lower-income households. 

To be clear, Latimer did not invent the light bulb. (At least according to most sources, but this remains a controversial topic in the history of electricity.) Thomas Edison created the light bulb, but Lewis Latimer improved upon the design by encasing the filament in cardboard rather than Edison’s original design that used a bamboo encasement. 

He went on to supervise the installation of public lights in major cities like New York, Philadelphia, Montreal, and London. 

2. James E. West and the Foil Electret Condenser Microphonejames e west

Professor West and his research partner Gerhard Sessler co-invented a condenser microphone in 1962 that 90% of current microphones today are based upon (Examples include: telephones, hearing aids, cameras, smart home devices, and music recording equipment.) while working for Bell Laboratories. 

He now holds more than 60 patents in the US, 200 foreign patents, and has authored or contributed to over 150 tech papers in the areas of solid-state physics, materials science, and acoustics. 






3. Marie Van Brittan Brown and the Home Security System

Marie Van Brittan Brown invented the home security system in response to safety concerns she faced in her neighborhood in the 1960s. At the time, the crime rate in Queens, NY was high, and her family held odd work hours. Calls to police resulted in slow response times, requiring higher security options. She never set out to be a renowned black woman inventor, but she saw a need for her family and devised a way to keep them safe. 

The original system was made up of peepholes, monitors, a camera, a two-way microphone, and an alarm that one could push to alert authorities. A patent was filed in 1966 and approved in 1969. 

She was awarded by the National Scientists Committee and interviewed by The New York Times in December 1969. This invention contributed to modern video monitoring systems, push-button alarms, two-way communication, immediate contact with first responders, and app-controlled door locks.  

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