Light Bulb Invention

British Inventors

light bulb invention

The first incandescent light bulb invention was in 1802 when a British chemist, Humphry Davy, passed electricity through a strip of platinum to create light.

However, the light created did not last long and wasn't very bright to be of any real use.

In 1878, the British physicist and chemist Joseph Wilson Swan received the first patent for an incandescent light bulb that used a carbon paper filament in a partially vacuumed glass bulb.

Swan's home in Gateshead, England was the first building in the world to be lit by a light bulb. The first public building to be entirely lit by incandescent lighting was the Savoy Theater in London, England.

Although functional, Swan's light bulb had a short life-span and required a lot of electricity.

Edison Light Bulb

Meanwhile, Thomas Edison was working on his own light bulb invention and filed a patent in 1879 that was similar to Swan's patent in England. Edison created the Edison Electric Light Company backed by financiers such as J.P. Morgan and the Vanderbilts.

To avoid any potential litigation over Swan's earlier filing, Edison formed a joint venture with Swan to market light bulbs in Britain. The company was called Ediswan.

thomas edisonIn 1883, the U.S Patent Office invalidated Edison's patent but he went to court for six years and reversed the decision. During this time, he also purchased other patents related to the light bulb, most notably a 1874 patent for a light bulb invention by Canadian inventors Henry Woodward and Mathew Evans.

With his vast financial resources and determination to replace gas lighting with electrical lighting, Edison set out to make his light bulb invention more efficient. He hired a number of inventors to work on this goal including Lewis Latimer who developed patented methods and processes for manufacturing light bulbs.

Edison also undertook exhaustive experiments to improve the carbon filament, which was made from cotton thread, wood splints and papers. These experiments indicated that bamboo or similar fibrous material made the best filaments for incandescent light bulbs.

light bulb invention In 1880, he hired William H. Moore, of Rahway, New Jersey, to travel to China and Japan, in search of bamboo. Moore traveled extensively in these countries and sent bales of bamboo of various stages of growth and species back to Edison.

Edison also dispatched John C. Brauner, of New York, to South America. Brauner was previously contracted by the Brazilian government to conduct geological surveys and had experience examining indigenous plants in that country.

Brauner criss-crossed 2,000 miles of jungle, marshes and the relative unknown southern interiors of Brazil to procure fibrous samples of palms, grasses and cane, which he sent to Edison.

James Ricalton was a school teacher in Maplewood, New Jersey, and student of natural science. Edison hired Ricalton to travel to Ceylon, Singapore, India, Burma and Southern China to collect species of bamboo.

A carbonized bamboo filament was eventually discovered that would give the Edison light bulb a life-span of 1200 hours. The bamboo filament was used for years until Edison invented a better one.

Photo credits: Kannesen, Beate


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