The use of electric light bulbs dates back to the 18th century when Humphry Davy invented the first electric light in 1802.
He experimented with electricity and invented an electric battery. During his experiment he connected wires to the battery and a piece of carbon which made the carbon glow producing light. He called it the Electric Arc lamp however the light did not stay light up for long and was not practical for daily use.
Many other inventors over the years made attempts to create the light bulb but not one design emerged for commercial use. In 1840, British Warren de la Rue came up with an efficient design made out of coiled platinum but the cost for producing it made it impractical for mass production. Ten years down the line, in 1850, Joseph Wilson Swan, an English physicist created a light bulb by enclosing carbonised paper filaments in an evacuated glass bulb however, the lack of a proper vacuum and adequate supply of electricity resulted in a bulb whose lifespan was too short.
In 1870, better vacuum pumps were invented and Joseph Wilson Swan carried on with his experiments on light bulbs and produced a longer lasting bulb using cotton thread which eliminated the problem of early bulb blackening. It was on July 24, 1974 that Henry Woodward, a medical electrician and Mathew Evans, a colleague built lamps of different shapes and sizes with carbon rods which were held between electrodes in glass cylinders filled with nitrogen. Their attempt to commercialize their lamps was unproductive and they eventually sold the patent to Thomas Edison in 1879.
Thomas Edison began his research in 1878 for a practical incandescent lamp and filed his first patent application for ‘Improvement in Electric Lights’. He continued testing several other types of material for metal filaments to improve his previous design. In 1879, Edison filled another patent for an electric lamp and several months later discovered that using a carbonized bamboo filament could make the light bulb last more than 1200 hrs. In 1880, Edison’s company, Edison Electric Light Company began to commercially manufacture the light bulbs and market the new product.
A brief Timeline of light bulbs
1906– General Electric Company was the first to patent the method of making tungsten filaments for use in incandescent light bulbs. Thomas Edison also knew that tungsten filaments would prove to be the best choice for use in incandescent light bulbs however, the technology required to produce the fine wire was not available at that time.
1910– William David Coolidge improved the manufacturing process for making longer lasting tungsten filaments.
1920s– Production of the first frosted light bulb including adjustable power beam bulbs for car headlamps and neon lighting.
1930s – Creation of the small one time flashbulbs for photography and the fluorescent tanning lamp.
1940s– The invention of the first soft light incandescent bulb.
1950s – Production of Quartz glass and halogen light bulbs.
1980s – Creation of new low wattage metal halides.
1990s – Introduction of long life bulbs and compact fluorescent bulbs.