Fact Check: Biden Claims 'A Black Man Invented the Light Bulb' During Kenosha Town Hall


Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden claimed during a town hall in Kenosha, Wisconsin, that a “black man invented the light bulb” and not Thomas Edison.

“Why in God’s name don’t we teach history in history classes?” Biden asked Thursday prior to his claim.

“A black man invented the light bulb, not a white guy named Edison. OK?”

Lewis Latimer, the inventor Biden was probably referring to, is credited with improving Edison’s light bulb but not creating the light bulb itself.

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“We gotta give people facts,” Biden said during the town hall. “Teach them what’s out there.”

Edison worked on creating a safe, inexpensive electric light in 1878 and had a breakthrough in October 1879, according to History.

He created a bulb with a platinum filament and replaced it with carbonized bamboo in the summer of 1880.

There were problems with Edison’s incandescent lighting system even though it was used at the Paris Lighting Exhibition in 1881 and the Crystal Palace in London in 1882.

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Latimer stepped in and created a light bulb with a filament made out of much more durable carbon, the Lemelson-MIT program reported.

He was a member of “Edison’s Pioneers,” Edison’s elite research team.

Latimer sold the patent for the “Incandescent Electric Light Bulb with Carbon Filament” but went on to patent a process to efficiently manufacture the carbon filament and created the threaded socket for the improved bulb.

Latimer also authored the first book on electric lighting in 1890, titled, “Incandescent Electric Lighting.”

He became one of the first major African-American inventors after starting out as Alexander Graham Bell’s assistant.

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His other patented inventions include the first toilet on railroad cars in 1874 and the predecessor of the air conditioner in 1886.

“Although today’s light bulbs use filaments of tungsten, which lasts even longer than carbon, Latimer will always be remembered for making the widespread use of electric light possible, in public and at home,” the Lemelson-MIT program wrote.

While Latimer should be credited for his improvements to make the light bulb that is used regularly these days, Edison was the first to invent the light bulb itself — though many other inventors across the globe were working on similar inventions and improvements at the time as well.

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Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. A University of Oregon graduate, Erin has conducted research in data journalism and contributed to various publications as a writer and editor.
Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. She grew up in San Diego, California, proceeding to attend the University of Oregon and graduate with honors holding a degree in journalism. During her time in Oregon, Erin was an associate editor for Ethos Magazine and a freelance writer for Eugene Magazine. She has conducted research in data journalism, which has been published in the book “Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future.” Erin is an avid runner with a heart for encouraging young girls and has served as a coach for the organization Girls on the Run. As a writer and editor, Erin strives to promote social dialogue and tell the story of those around her.
Tucson, Arizona
Graduated with Honors
Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, University of Oregon
Books Written
Contributor for Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future
Prescott, Arizona
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Politics, Health, Entertainment, Faith