Black Inventors and Their Innovations in Home Electricity

Notable Electrical Innovations and Their Creators

While the names Tesla, Edison, and Cavendish may be household names in the field of electricity, they aren’t the only ones who shaped history through thoughtful inventions and brilliant solutions to the electrical conundrums of their time. Many exceptional minds have contributed to the modernization of electricity in the home, and this Black History Month, it’s time to learn about more of them. Here are three brilliant African American inventors that revolutionized home electricity

Lewis Latimer’s Carbon Light Bulb Filament

lewisLewis Latimer was born to Rebecca and George Latimer in Chelsea, Massachusetts, in 1848. His talent in mechanical drawing and drafting led him to work for The U.S. Electric Lighting Co., which Hiram Maxim then owned, a competitor to Thomas Edison. 

Maxim’s drive to improve Edison’s design was realized by Latimer, who turned that light bulb from one with a short, days-only lifespan to one that lasted longer. He did this by encasing the filament in a cardboard envelope that kept the carbon intact, creating a longer-lasting lightbulb. Because of his development of a more durable and longer-lasting light bulb, it became more affordable and available to consumers.

James E. West’s Electret Microphone

jamesWith over 40 years of expertise in electro, physical and architectural acoustics, James E. West, Ph.D., is credited for one of the most important inventions in sound recording and voice communication that is being used in 90% of microphones manufactured to this day. West, who did most of his research and development at Bell Laboratories, developed the foil electret transducer together with Gerhard Sessler. This transducer was at the heart of the electret microphone, which they completed in 1962 and patented in 1964.

Their design allowed microphones to become small, compact, and lightweight while simultaneously sensitive enough to be accurate and reliable. The microphone worked so well that it has become the standard in the industry and now exists even in the most ordinary devices found at home. Almost every device that requires a microphone has West’s invention inside, from hearing aids and baby monitors to video recorders and smart home devices. It is clear that the West has made a significant impact in the world of electronics.

Marie Van Brittan Brown’s Home Security System

A nurse by trade, Marie Van Brittan Brown’s invention of the home security system was born out of necessity. Because she was often left home alone in a high-crime neighborhood due to an incompatible work schedule with her husband, the couple developed a system of cameras, microphones, and TV monitors that allowed Marie to see and communicate with who was outside without having to open the door. 

The couple further expanded on their invention by adding a way to remotely unlock a door and the ability to contact the police quickly with just the push of a button. This system was patented in 1969 and became the basis for home security systems that are common today.

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The Black Inventors Who Revolutionized the Home Electricity Industry

These Black Inventors Changed the Way Our Modern Homes Function 

This year for Black History Month, we want to introduce the three black inventors who made electrical history when they revolutionized the modern home with their electrical inventions. These incredible men and women made all of our lives easier with their contributions to electrical engineering. 

Black inventors helped engineer the first-ever microphone, lightbulb, and the telephone. It is hard to imagine what life would have been like without their incredible advancements in the history of electricity. 

Lewis Latimer Invented the Carbon Light Bulb Filament in 1981

Without Lewis Latimer, Thomas Edison may have never invented the first light bulb. This innovative black inventor and engineer is an important figure in the history of electricity because he invented the carbon filament in 1881. 

He was the son of formerly enslaved people and was drafted to fight for the Union in the Civil War. When he returned home from war, he got a job working at a patent law office. This is where he was able to study the art of mechanical drafting. 

Not only did Lewis Latimer help Thomas Edison invent the light bulb, but he also helped Alexander Graham Bell invent the telephone. He is also notable for how he developed a way to improve the function of bathrooms in trains. 

james e west


James E. West Co-Invented the Electret Condenser Microphone in 1964 

Fans of music will love the next black inventor on our list! James E. West, born 1931, was a visionary inventor in the 1960s who created the first Electret Condenser Microphone with his colleagues at Bell Labs. 

He paired up with fellow inventor Gerhard Sessler to attempt to create the most compact and sensitive microphone the world has ever seen. Almost all microphones used today are an iteration of the microphone that James E. West invented in the 1960s. 




Mary Van Brittan Brown Co-Invented the Home Security System in 1966

maryMary Van Brittan was a black female inventor who started as a nurse. She was worried about being home alone while her husband was at work in her neighborhood in Queens, so she decided to take matters into her own hands. 

She connected a camera to four peepholes in the front door. Having the camera’s stream playing live on a monitor inside her home made her feel safer. In addition to the camera live stream of the front door, they also connected some buttons to control the system. 

If someone was outside, Mary Van Brittan Brown could call her husband or the police with the press of a button. There was also a microphone that she used to talk to people outside. She decided to take a patent out on her invention and was awarded it in 1969. Her invention was the first security camera and inspired many of the security systems we use today. 

About Elite Electric & Air

Elite Electric & Air is the go-to heating, cooling, and electric home service provider for Port St. Louis, Florida. Homeowners can rely on the friendly, trustworthy, and highly trained staff at Elite Electric & Air. Call them today to schedule an appointment with an experienced local electrician in Port St. Louis, FL!