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3 Black Inventors Who Changed Home Electricity

Inventors Who Helped Make Houses Into Homes 

Electricity is ubiquitous in modern life, but the constant ability to plug in has not always been the case. Because electricity is everywhere, it is easy to take it for granted and forget to appreciate all the people bringing safe and abundant power into every home. 

Engineers, inventors, and tradesmen have worked tirelessly for the last century to write building codes, produce safe technology, and install safe electrical systems. The process met with wild success and some notable failures at the beginning when trial and error was considered "research."

To celebrate Black History Month, local electricians want to take a moment to recognize the achievements and contributions of African Americans to the electrical industry. Here is a quick summary of three notable black innovators that have helped power the world. 

Lewis Latimer 

lewisNo discussion about African American inventors is complete without mentioning Lewis Latimer sooner rather than later. Latimer was a prolific inventor holding over 100 US and international patents. After serving in the Navy during the Civil War, Latimer worked as a draftsman with a patent office. This exposed him to cutting-edge technological development and helped him become inspired to revolutionize several modern technologies. 

First, Latimer designed carbon filaments for early lightbulbs. Before tungsten was the material of choice, carbon filaments were used. The difficulty with carbon filaments was that they were brittle and difficult to install during manufacturing. With his ingenuity, he designed better systems, leading to more reliable light bulbs. His achievements garnered the attention of Thomas Edison, who he went to work for. 

He also contributed to HVAC, creating a prototype of an air conditioner, and Alexander Graham Bell employed him to draft the patent for the telephone. 

James E. West

jamesA modern inventor, James West helped pioneer devices used by nearly every person daily. A graduate of Temple University in 1957, West began developing a revolutionary new microphone while working an internship for Bell Laboratories. The electret condenser microphone was a brand-new way to convert sound to electrical signals for transmission and was put into production in 1962. 

Electret microphones remain unsurpassed for sound quality, and they can be found in everyday items like: 

  • Computers
  • Telephones
  • Cameras 
  • Smart home devices 

Marie Van Brittan Brown 

Living in Queens, New York in the 1960s was a dangerous proposition. Crime rates were sky-high then, and Marie Van Brittan Brown was looking for any way to increase her safety. A nurse herself, her husband was an electronics technician, and they set out to create the first modern home security system. 

Rudimentary by today's standards, the system consisted of peepholes and cameras that allowed the person at home to identify anyone at the door. Two-way microphones allowed the user to communicate with anyone outside the apartment, and a red button allowed her to call the police with one single press. Marie and her husband received their patent in 1969, and the home security industry was born. 

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