Ronald Robinson, a social worker and longtime community activist, and his brother Leo Robinson, city councilor at large, co-founded the Lewis H. Latimer Society & Museum in 1997 to raise awareness of Lewis Howard Quincy Latimer’s accomplishments.
Lewis Latimer was born on Shawmut Street in Chelsea on September 4th, 1848. He was the son of parents who escaped slavery in Virginia via the Underground Railroad. Latimer served in the US Navy as young as 16 years old during the Civil War.
In 1885, Latimer began his career as an office boy in the Boston law firm of Crosby & Gould. Nine years later, he had invented a toilet that could operate on moving trains. By the age of 26, Latimer had become an established engineer responsible for the drawings of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone patents.
Lewis Latimer has been credited with inventing the carbon filament, the light switch, the globe used on electric lamps, an early version of the air conditioner (and disinfecting), and a locking rack for hats, coats, and umbrellas.
The Robinson brothers did not learn about the Chelsea-native engineer until they were well into adulthood. In 1992, a local family loaned the Robinsons a book about Latimer who were stunned to learn of his inventions and their city’s connection to such prestige.
They soon realized that wider knowledge of Latimer’s life, philosophies, and contributions to the world could inspire the youth in Chelsea and foster a sense of pride which has followed into the 21st century.
The Society has also embarked on the journey to collect and preserve materials which redress the historical balance and representation of the African-American community of Chelsea. The Latimer Society’s mission is to locate, collect, analyze, organize and preserve African-American historical contributions used to educate, empower and interpret in Chelsea, Suffolk County, and the nation.
With exhibitions, presentations, community projects, and workshops, the Society has dedicated itself to presenting Lewis Latimer as well other local Black inventors as role models to hundreds of youths in Chelsea and statewide.