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
Lewis 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
With 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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