No Fetters in the Bay State

Flight to the North Newspaper Advertisements, October 15, 1842Lewis Latimer's story actually begins before his birth, with the escape of his parents, George and Rebecca, from slavery in 1842. As Lewis would later recount, Rebecca "determined that she would not be the mother of a slave" and devised a daring plan to escape to the North. Since George was fair-skinned "she induced him to make an effort to escape as her master. With this in view they left Norfolk, Virginia, as master and servant . . . and thus continued until they had reached Boston, Massachusetts." Abolitionism and the Fugitive Slave Debate By the 1840s, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston had become centers of abolitionist activity in the United States, offering safety and assistance to growing numbers of African Americans who had...

What Is an Invention?

What Is an Invention? Technical invention is one form of human creativity, the impulse to improve our material environment. Contrary to romantic images, scientific invention rarely occurs in a single burst of dramatic insight. Rather, invention is usually a slow incremental process, guided by a mixture of intuition, research, and painstaking work. New things usually develop from old ones, with each inventor's work based on some established premise of the past. Though many inventors may have provided essential contributions along the way, we usually credit just one person with making the critical difference. Alexander Graham Bell "improved the telegraph" so that it would carry sounds, creating the invention we now call the telephone. His original model used the same instrument as both...

The Race for Electric Light

"Alive with Inventors" Inventive activity flourished widely in the America of the nineteenth century, but nowhere so vigorously as in the port cities of the East Coast. Bridgeport Industrial Scene, ca. 1880These cities offered a wide range of resources to support and stimulate the imaginations of technically ambitious men who came to seek their fortunes. There were mechanics' institutes and other "scientific" and "philosophical" organizations offering courses and public lectures; large numbers of interested scientists, artisans, and mechanics who contributed to the intellectual ferment; technical shops where equipment could be repaired or made to order; and European craftsmen who brought "the latest advances." In addition, there was a general sense that technology was "democratic" and...

Inventing a Better Life

A Record of Activism "I am heart and soul in the movement," began Latimer's passionate 1895 statement calling for equal rights. During the course of his lifetime, Latimer had witnessed the transition of African Americans from slaves to citizens. Within this context, he strove to create his own life as a positive example of what African Americans could do when given freedom and equality. Latimer believed in racial integration and took an active role in achieving it. He gained recognition in professional and social situations dominated by European Americans, and he valued his membership in organizations such as the Grand Army of the Republic and the Edison Pioneers, as measures of how society had progressed. After purchasing a home in the predominantly white neighborhood of Flushing, Queens...
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