Fake News: Lewis Latimer Did NOT Invent The Light Bulb -- Contrary To What Joe Biden Said -- Or The Telephone

Fact Check

  • by: Molly Weisner

STORY UPDATED: check for updates below.

Fake News: Lewis Latimer Did NOT Invent The Light Bulb -- Contrary To What Joe Biden Said -- Or The Telephone

Did Lewis Latimer, an African-American man from Massachusetts who was bought from slavery, invent the light bulb and telephone? No, that's not true: Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, and Thomas Edison invented the first light bulb. But, Latimer did play an important role in helping both inventions become more refined and patented in the late 1800s. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden falsely claimed in a September 2020 campaign appearance "a black man invented the light bulb. not a white guy named Edison."

The claim originated from an article (archived here) where it was published by Liberty Writers Africa on May 26, 2019, under the title "Meet Black Man Who Invented The Light Bulb And Telephone [Lewis Latimer]". It opened:

Growing up as a young Black child, very little is thought to you about Black inventors like Lewis Latimer and magnificent Black civilizations. The school's curriculum around the world, and especially in Africa focuses more on the Caucasian inventors of the world.

No one teaches our children of men like Lewis. Lewis Latimer remains to date the Africans who made the most impact on the world in the 20th century. He co-founded the telephone and the durable light bulb.

Some users on social media saw this:

Latimer became a skilled patent draftsman in the post-Civil War period, which gave way to several inventions and advancements in American technology. In working with Bell on the telephone, Latimer drafted the patent for the telephone's design.

Latimer did have a few inventions of his own, too. He developed an improvement to railroad car bathrooms and an early air-conditioning unit. But perhaps his biggest contribution was a carbon filament for lightbulbs that was more durable.

Latimer brought an understanding of electrical engineering, helping Edison to promote and defend the lightbulb's design. Latimer would later publish his own book, "Incandescent Electric Lighting: A Practical Description of the Edison System" in 1890 and continued his work as a patent consultant until 1922.

The false claim somehow made its way into Biden's mind and he repeated it:

We wrote about libertywritersafrica.com before. Here are our most recent articles that mention the site:

Updates:

  • 2020-09-04T23:15:53Z 2020-09-04T23:15:53Z
    Adding Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden making the false claim.

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  Molly Weisner

Molly is a staff writer and fact-checker at Lead Stories based in North Carolina. She is a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studying media and journalism, with a specific interest in investigative reporting. Molly is also a reporter on several projects based out of UNC's journalism school, including another fact-checking initiative and an online weekly for a former news desert in Chatham County, North Carolina. Molly has also pursued freelance reporting in tracking the juvenile justice system in North Carolina.

Read more about or contact Molly Weisner

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