Meet the Inventors Who Helped Make Home Electronics What They Are Today!
Black History Month is a time to celebrate and learn more about Black history – and one of the best ways to do that is to get acquainted with the trailblazers who broke through barriers and affected positive change in the world.
There are plenty of examples of excellence to choose from in all areas of life. However, this article will focus on three innovators whose impact on electronics and engineering can still be felt today in the modern home. Keep reading to learn how Lewis Howard Latimer, James E. West, and Marie Van Brittan Brown made groundbreaking technological advancements that have shaped everyday electrical use.
Lewis Latimer’s Contributions to the Incandescent Light Bulb
Born in Massachusetts in 1848, Lewis Howard Latimer was the youngest son of formerly enslaved George and Rebecca Latimer. After serving in the U.S. Navy as a teenager, he found a job as an office clerk in a patent law firm, where he rose to the position of a head patent draftsman. He then went on to work with Alexander Graham Bell on the patent for the telephone before getting into the field of electric lighting.
Latimer was employed at the U.S. Electric Lighting Company (one of Thomas Edison’s rivals) when he developed a new method of manufacturing incandescent light bulbs that helped protect fragile carbon filaments from breaking during production. The mass production of incandescent light bulbs facilitated the widespread use of electric lighting because it made light bulbs more affordable and longer lasting. So this was no small contribution on Latimer’s part.
James E. West Co-Invented the Electret Microphone
James E. West was born in Virginia in 1931. Due to segregation, the local hospital would not accept Black patients, and his mother, Matilda, gave birth to him at her father’s home. At age 12, James got a job installing electrical wiring in rural homes with his cousin. After high school, he was drafted into the U.S. Army to fight in the Korean War – and was awarded a Purple Heart.
Upon his return, West studied Physics at Temple University, during which time he got an internship at Bell Laboratories, where he would later enjoy an illustrious 40-year career. At Bell, he and his colleague Gerhard Sessler developed and invented the foil electret microphone in 1961. This was a huge leap forward in microphone technology at the time, opening the door for a wide range of applications that wouldn’t have been possible with the condenser microphones of the era. The vast majority of microphones produced today are based on West and Sessler’s design and are used in everything from phones and smart home devices to cameras and hearing aids.
Marie Van Brittan Brown Invented the Modern Home Security System
Marie Van Brittan Brown was born in Queens, New York, in 1922. Little is known about her childhood or personal life, but it is known that she lived with her husband, Albert, in Queens for much of her adult life. Albert was an electronics technician, and Marie was a nurse, but in 1966 they would invent the precursor to modern home security systems.
Marie grew concerned about the high crime rate and lackluster police response times in her neighborhood – mainly because her work schedule often left her home alone for long stretches. So she devised a security system for their home. It included a camera, microphones for two-way communication, a remote-controlled locking mechanism, a button that would alert the police in an emergency, and a monitor that could be installed anywhere in the home to see who was at the door without opening it. This security system allowed Marie to see and communicate with whoever was at the door from the safety of a different room.
Marie and Albert filed the patent for their system in 1966, which was granted in 1969. Unfortunately, the system never saw mass production. However, it paved the way for the security systems used in homes and businesses today, with numerous inventors citing Brown’s original patent. Everything from intercoms, CCTV, and doorbell cams to emergency alert buttons and remote-controlled door locks wouldn’t be possible without the innovations of Marie and her husband.
About Southwest Florida Electric Inc.
Southwest Florida Electric Inc. is a family-owned and operated company serving Fort Myers, FL, and the surrounding areas since 2010. They offer upfront pricing, financing, and on-time arrivals. Call them today for electrical services in Fort Myers, FL.