Celebrate Lewis Latimer’s 170th birthday in Flushing

The Lewis Latimer House Museum in Flushing.
Photo by Michael Shain
By Carlotta Mohamed

There are many reasons to celebrate Lewis H. Latimer, an African-American inventor, poet and painter, who was born on Sept. 4, 1848 and became an electrical pioneer working with three of the greatest scientific innovators in American history: Alexander Graham Bell, Hiram Maxim and Thomas Edison.

In honor of the African American inventor, the Lewis Latimer House Museum, located at 34-41 137th St. in Flushing, will be celebrating Latimer’s 170th birthday Sept. 8 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. with a wine and beer tasting reception, followed by a silent art and poetry auction.

Yan Ran, executive director of the Lewis Latimer House Museum, said they are expecting close to 100 guests, including Hugh Price, the great nephew of Latimer and former president and CEO of the National Urban League. Elected officials, including Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) are expected to attend.

“It’s a good opportunity to highlight Lewis Latimer’s legacy and to invite the community to explore the museum if they haven’t been, and give people an opportunity to learn more about the museum and Latimer’s heritage.” Ran said.

The house typically illuminates the life and achievements of Latimer and other African-American scientists through tours, exhibits and educational programs.

According to Ran, a lot of Flushing residents would stop by, knowing nothing about Latimer or the house, which Latimer lived in from 1903 until his death in 1928. The house remained in the Latimer family until 1963. Threatened with demolition, the house was moved away from Holly Avenue to its present location in 1988.

“After they tour the museum they learn about this amazing man,” said Ran. “We offer bilingual tours in English and Mandarin. We train local youth to tell the story of Lewis Latimer in their own language.”

In addition to being a talented poet, painter, and electrical engineer, Latimer was a patent law expert, the son of two fugitive slaves who escaped from Virginia to Boston.

Latimer was determined to overcome his lack of formal education and taught himself mechanical drawing while in the Union Navy and became an expert draftsman.

He later became the first African-American inventor and engineer to be given eight patents for his innovative work and collaboration with three famous scientific inventors: Alexander Graham Bell, who invented and patented the telephone; Hiram Maxim, creator of the first portable fully automatic Maxim Gun; and Thomas Edison, inventor of the electric lightbulb.

Latimer played a critical role in the development of the telephone. As Edison’s chief draftsman, he invented and patented the carbon filament, a significant improvement in the production of the incandescent light bulb, according to the Lewis Latimer House Museum.

Over the course of his career, Latimer supervised the installation of street lighting and the construction of electric plants in many American cities as well as in London and Montreal.

The upcoming birthday celebration in honor of Latimer will feature donated artwork by three local artists: Sherese Francis, Antonia Perez and Cecile Chong.

Patron tickets for the birthday celebration are $30 each, and VIP ticket entrance for two people is $250. Ran said there are also different sponsorship levels: A silver sponsorship of $1,000, which includes five tickets and silent auction preview; gold sponsorship of $5,000, which includes 10 tickets and also an auction preview; and the diamond level of $10,000 with 20 tickets.

All sponsorship levels come with recognition and event materials, Ran said.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the museum to create more affordable access to local families to the Tinkerlab Programs, a key educational program with innovative hands-on activities, , and more cultural events in Queens.

Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmohamed@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4526.

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