The famous American inventor, Thomas Alva Edison wasn’t the only one who contributed to the development of the light bulb. In fact, there were over 20 inventors before Edison who independently developed some forms of incandescent lamps. So how the light bulb came to illuminate the world and who were the people behind this bright idea? Read on as we explore the making of the light bulb and the great inventors behind it.
The History of the Light Bulb
The history of early light bulbs is more than 200 years old. Many inventors had developed the bulbs well before Edison patented the first commercially successful bulb in 1879.
- 1800-Alessandro Volta: In 1800, this Italian inventor was the first to develop the method of generating electricity by successfully showcasing Voltaic Pile. The first example of glowing copper wire was presented by this inventor.
- 1802-Humphry Dave’s Electric Arc Lamp: It was invented in 1802. An arc of light was emitted between two carbon rods thus giving the name electric arc lamp. However, this invention was not a practical way of lightning as the light was too bright for use in offices or in the home. The other drawback with this arc lamp was that it burned out quickly. This was the first efficient and satisfactory show of electric light.
- 1840-Warren de la Rue and his bulb: This British scientist, in 1840, developed a bulb with a platinum filament in a vacuum tube which emitted light when the current was passed through it. However, this method proved to be too costly due to the platinum. It was commercially non-viable to produce such bulbs.
- 1850-Joseph Wilson Swan & Carbonised Filaments: This English inventor utilised carbonised paper filaments in a vacuum glass tube to tackle the cost-effectiveness problem of previous inventors. Swan came up with a new and improved design in 1878 using a treated cotton thread which effectively stopped the early bulb blackening. This bulb, like its predecessors, was also kept in a vacuum tube to minimize the exposure to oxygen in order to expand their lifespan.
- 1879-Light Bulb of Thomas Alva Edison: Improving upon his predecessors, Edison was the first inventor to successfully use thin carbon filaments with better vacuums to solve the scientific and commercial challenges in designing the light bulb. Edison demonstrated his device in December 1879. Edison and his team also developed a carbonized bamboo filament which could burn for more than 1,200 hours. This was another improvement.
But why Thomas Alva Edison succeeded?
Edison realized that the problem with earlier bulb designs was the thick filament with low resistance. Edison built his device using a thin carbon filament which required a little current to glow while offering high resistance. He was granted a patent for his design in 1879 in the United States. Soon Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York was founded in 1880 which started the commercial production of lightening solutions. The rest is history.
Tungsten filaments: Tungsten has the highest melting point among chemical elements and hence is most suitable for making the filaments. Tungsten is the primary material used in incandescent bulb filaments world over but at the time of Edison, the technique to make fine tungsten wires was not known. It was improved by William David Coolidge in 1910.
Modern Bulb Technologies LEDs & CFL: At present Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL) & light emitting diode (LED) technologies are used for lightening purposes. Nick Holonyak, Jr., invented the first visible-spectrum LED in the form of red diodes in 1962. An LED bulb has a lifespan of about 50,000 hours which is about 50 times the lifespan of a traditional incandescent bulb, making it environmentally beneficial and cost-effective. The future belongs to LED.