The light bulb is an essential modern day convenience upon which we rely on a daily basis; life without it would be unrecognisable. The common assumption is that Thomas Alva Edison ‘invented’ the light bulb in 1879, in fact, a more accurate way to describe the origins of the light bulb, would be to say it was the outcome of an evolutionary process, of which many people contributed. Quite remarkably, some historians claim there were more than 22 inventors of incandescent bulbs prior to 1879. However, Edison stands alone as the first to create a commercially viable light bulb. This article examines the extraordinary early stages of development and influential figures in the incandescent bulb evolution.
Early light bulbs
In 1802, British Chemist, Sir Humphrey Davey was able to demonstrate the first incandescent light at The Royal Institution of Great Britain. He used an electric battery, then the most powerful one in the world, to pass current through a strip of platinum and generate a dull light. He went on to create the first electric light, known as the Electric Arc lamp in 1809, by connecting a 2,000 cell battery to a charcoal rod. The light created was short lived and the invention impractical, but a precedent had been set and an explosion of lighting technologies was to follow.
Throughout the following decades, inventors experimented with various combinations of carbon rods, platinum and iridium wires, and vacuumed enclosures. Some designs were patented and demonstrated, but a commercially suitable product remained elusive.
In 1840, British Scientist, Warren de la Rue enclosed a coiled platinum filament in a vacuum tube and produced light by passing an electric current through it. The thinking being, the high melting point of platinum would allow for a high operating temperature and the evacuated chamber would result in fewer molecules coming into contact with the platinum, so boosting longevity. The design was effective, but the high price of platinum meant it was commercially unfeasible.
German inventor, Henricq Goebel, is acknowledged in some quarters as creator of the first light bulb using high resistant carbonised bamboo filament inside a glass bulb. However, it was only in 1893, years after Edison’s commercial product had been introduced to the market that Goebel claimed he had invented the bulb in 1854. He never applied for a patent and his claims were never substantiated.
Throughout the 1850/60s, English Physicist, Joseph Swan, developed his version of a light bulb with carbonised paper filaments in an evacuated glass bulb. By 1860 he had a working prototype but inconsistent electricity supply and difficulties creating a true vacuum, meant lamp life was short. As the 1870s progressed, vacuum pumps improved in quality and by 1878 Swan had produced another incandescent lamp with a treated cotton thread. Unlike previous versions, this lamp avoided early bulb blackening and the vacuum allowed the filament to glow white-hot and emit light without catching fire. Unfortunately for Swan, the lamp had a carbon rod rather than a thin filament, this meant it had a high resistance and required a large current, making it impractical for commercial use.
On 24 July 1874, Henry Woodward, an inventor from Toronto and his colleague Matthew Evans, had their light bulb patent approved. Unlike others, their lamps employed different size and shaped carbon rods held in place between electrodes in glass cylinders filled with nitrogen. The lamps worked but attempts to commercialise the product proved unsuccessful, and in 1879 they sold the patent to Edison.
Thomas Edison and the first commercially viable light bulb
In 1878 Edison set about creating a commercially viable light bulb. On 14 October 1878, he filed a US patent application for ‘improvement in electric lights.’ The first successful product test took place on 22 October 1879 and lasted for 13.5 hours. After further experimentation and design improvement, Edison filed for another patent on 4 November 1879, for a lamp using ‘a carbon filament or strip coiled and connected … to platina contact wires.’ The carbon filament could be created using ‘cotton and linen thread, wood splints, papers coiled in various ways.’ When Edison and his team discovered a carbonised bamboo filament could burn for over 1,200 hours, the commercially viable product was created. In 1880, Thomas Edison’s Company, Edison Electric Light Company, marketed the first commercial light bulb. Edison continued to develop his product and from 1878 to 1928 he applied for over 1,000 patents. Today, incandescent lamps are still in use and the Edison Screw cap is still widely used across lighting products.
Traditional light bulbs still available today
Incandescent Light Bulbs
Although lighting technologies have developed rapidly in recent years, many people still like the look and feel of a traditional incandescent light bulb. Incandescents are currently still available but a recent EU Directive against inefficient lamps has rendered most obsolete as of September 2013. But don’t fear, many wholesalers, including The Lamp Company have large stocks of incandescent lamps remaining in GLS, Candle and Golf Ball shapes. Our remaining stock includes 150w, 100w, 75w, and 60w in clear, frosted and coloured finishes.
Industrial Light Bulbs
Industrial lamps are manufactured with an extra filament support to withstand extra stresses such as knocks and vibrations and are traditionally used on building sites. The lamps have a rated life of 3,000 hours compared to 1,000 hours for a traditional incandescent. A full range of industrial lamps, in a variety of shapes and sizes can be found here.
Ferrowatt Light Bulbs
Ferrowatt are the leading brand of traditional style bulbs still in production. All products are detailed as per the originals produced by Edison, including looped filaments and hand-exhausted tips. These lamps are ideal for those wanting Victorian and Art Nouveau style finishes, particularly in museums, hotels, theatres, historic buildings and period homes.
Ferrowatt lamps available:
Antique Squirrel Cage – Vintage long life bulbs with a squirrel cage filament. Bayonet and Edison Screw caps available in 40w and 60w.
Tesla Commemorative – Serbian inventor, Nikola Tesla, played a significant role in the development of the alternating current (AC) electricity supply system at the end of the twentieth century. Edison used an antiquated form of direct current (DC) electrical supply in his lamps. Alternating Current is still the industry standard today. Ferrowatt’s vintage 25w Tesla Commemorative lamp with Edison Screw cap recognises this achievement.
Vintage Art Deco – Vintage Art Deco style 30w bulb with Edison Screw cap.
Antique Reproduction – Vintage long life reproduction bulb with carbon filament. Available in Bayonet and Edison Screw cap, 15w and 60w.
LED Antique Cage – This lamp infuses modern LED technology with traditional appearance and style. 1.3w LED in Edison Screw cap with 100 Lumens and a fantastic 30,000 hour rated life.
Should you require more information about traditional light bulbs please don’t hesitate to contact us. Call 01462 490066 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Our extensive lighting range can be viewed online here.