Lewis Howard Latimer was born in 1848 in Chelsea, Massachusetts. As a young man, Latimer learned mechanical drawing while working for a Boston patent office. In 1880, he was hired by Hiram Maxim of the U.S. Electric Lighting Company to help develop a commercially viable electric lamp. In 1882, Latimer invented a device for efficiently manufacturing the carbon filaments used in electric lamps and shared a patent for the "Maxim electric lamp". He also patented a threaded wooden socket for light bulbs and supervised the installation of electric streetlights in New York City, Philadelphia, Montreal, and London.
In 1884, Latimer became an engineer at the Edison Electric Light Company where he had the distinction of being the only African American member of "Edison's Pioneers"—Thomas Edison's team of inventors. While working for Edison, Latimer wrote Incandescent Electric Lighting, the first engineering handbook on lighting systems. Although today's incandescent light bulbs use filaments made of tungsten rather than carbon, Latimer's work helped to make possible the widespread use of electric lights.