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Sept. 13: Lewis Latimer patented a better light bulb on this day in 1881

Jennifer Karmon

Early versions of Thomas Edison's incandescent light bulb had a problem: They burned out quickly -- within a few days, by some accounts. Lewis Latimer, the freeborn son of escaped slaves, came up with an improved design, patented on Sept. 13, 1881, as well as a way of producing a sturdier carbon filament (an advance that won him induction to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006).

Edison hired Latimer away from rival Hiram Maxim, and Latimer's inventions helped put incandescent lighting within reach of households across America.