Lighting History

In the beginning....

Thomas Edison developed a practical light bulb toward the end of 1879.

In 1880 he designed this version, the first to have all the essential features of a modern light bulb--

an incandescent filament in an evacuated glass bulb with a screw base.

Creating a successful filament was the most critical factor. For it to be practical, it had to glow when an electric current passed through it, possess high electrical resistance, and last a long time.

Courtesy of the National Museum of American History, gift of the Department of Engineering, Princeton University, 1961.

Light Bulb, 1880, invented by Thomas Edison (1847-1931)

and from Enchanted Learning

The Invention of the Light Bulb: Davy, Swan and Edison

The first electric light was made in 1800 by Humphry Davy, an English scientist.

He experimented with electricity and invented an electric battery.

When he connected wires to his battery and a piece of carbon, the carbon glowed, producing light.

This is called an electric arc.

Much later, in 1860, the English physicist Sir Joseph Wilson Swan (1828-1914) was determined to devise a practical, long-lasting electric light.

He found that a carbon paper filament worked well, but burned up quickly.

In 1878, he demonstrated his new electric lamps in Newcastle, England.

In 1877, the American Charles Francis Brush manufactured some carbon arcs to light a public square in Cleveland, Ohio, USA.

These arcs were used on a few streets, in a few large office buildings, and even some stores. Electric lights were only used by a few people.

The inventor Thomas Alva Edison (in the USA) experimented with thousands of different filaments to find just the right materials to glow well and be long-lasting.

In 1879, Edison discovered that a carbon filament in an oxygen-free bulb glowed but did not burn up for 40 hours.

Edison eventually produced a bulb that could glow for over 1500 hours.

Lewis Howard Latimer (1848-1928) improved the bulb by inventing a carbon filament (patented in 1881); Latimer was a member of Edison's research team, which was called "Edison's Pioneers."

In 1882, Latimer developed and patented a method of manufacturing his carbon filaments.

In 1903, Willis R. Whitney invented a treatment for the filament so that it wouldn't darken the inside of the bulb as it glowed.

In 1910, William David Coolidge (1873-1975) invented a tungsten filament which lasted even longer than the older filaments.

The incandescent bulb revolutionized the world.

Enchanted Learning

First Public Demonstration of Edison's Light Bulb

Can you imagine what life was like before you could simply flip a switch and turn on a light?

How would not having electric light affect the way you live your life?

In the 1870s, many inventors were working on creating lighting devices, but until Edison became involved, what existed was electric arc lighting.

This kind of lighting system was one in which lights were connected in a series circuit, so if one failed, the whole circuit failed.

Edison boasted that he would create a safe, reliable, and inexpensive electric light that would replace gaslight.

First Public Demonstration of Edison's Light Bulb

On December 31, 1879, after years of work and thousands of experiments, Edison gave the first public demonstration of the incandescent light bulb at his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey.

An incandescent light has a thread-like object, or filament, that gives off light when heated to incandescence (hot enough to emit light) by an electric current.

Edison was able to spend so much time on this invention because, thanks to his reputation as a successful inventor, he had the support of some leading financiers of the day.

J.P. Morgan and the Vanderbilts established the Edison Light Company and advanced Edison $30,000 for research and development.

Edison did not work on creating the incandescent electric light alone.

He was assisted by Francis Upton, a 26-year-old graduate of Princeton University with a master's degree in science.

Upton provided the mathematical and theoretical expertise that Edison lacked.

In October 1879, they produced a bulb with a platinum filament.

But platinum was too expensive, so instead they found that a carbon filament provided a good light at a cheaper price.

Although there were problems with the early incandescent lighting systems for years, Edison's reputation as the world's greatest inventor was firmly established.


1879 Edison's Electric Lamp

1892 GE Founded

1938 Fluorescent Lamp

1959 Halogen Lamp

1961 High Pressure Sodium Lamp

1962 Metal Halide Lamp

1969 GE Invented First LED

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