How Did Thomas Edison Make the Light Bulb?
As an inventor, Edison held over 1,000 patents, including one for a phonograph and a motion picture Kinetoscope. Many people credit him for inventing the light bulb, but he did not hold the patent for that invention, and for good reason.
Who Really Invented the Light Bulb?
Thomas Edison didn't invent the light bulb, contrary to historic belief. In fact, it's common to credit the invention to Edison because he owned one of the first electric power companies in the United States. Many types of bulbs had been in existence up to 50 years before Edison, who simply improved on the design in 1879.
Making the Light Bulb
One of Edison's first problems was trying to find materials that would make the light bulb practical for home use. Gas lights were mainly used in homes, but these were dangerous and didn't last very long.
So after many tries using various materials during nearly a year and a half of experiments and testing, Edison stumbled upon using a filament of carbonized thread inside an incandescent light. Edison and his assistants tried more than 3,000 different methods of creating an incandescent lamp with metal formed into thin strips of filaments. Edison used a current of lower power and a better vacuum in a spherical glass to heat the metal strip until it glowed. This light could burn for over 13 hours and was much safer than gas lights or any type of light bulb currently in existence at the time.
More than a Bulb
This new bulb propelled Edison to fame. While much of the world focused on the internal workings of the bulb — it was better, it lasted longer, and had practical use — they overlooked Edison's true achievements related to the bulb.
In effect, Thomas Edison created a whole electrical system that was safe for homes and could improve life. The following details needed to be invented along with the development of the bulb in order to make a cohesive electrical system:
- The parallel circuit allowed for electricity to flow on various paths even if one of the paths was broken. This allowed light bulbs to continue working when one blew or went out.
- A long-lasting and durable light bulb. Over time, light bulb longevity increased from 13 hours to hundreds of hours. During the beginnings of the electric age, Edison managed to create a bulb that lasted 1,200 hours. As of this writing, bulbs have the capacity to last 1,500 hours or more.
- An improved dynamo. A dynamo is a machine that converts mechanical to electrical energy. The dynamo was crucial in creating safe and consistent power generators.
- A reliable underground network.
- Special units for maintaining a steady stream of voltage to regulate unwanted surges and needed power.
- Safety fuses for spiking electricity and insulating materials for home.
- Edison created light sockets with convenient on and off switches for the home.
Menlo Park, the home place of his laboratory, was the first building to be lit by Edison's electrical system. In December 1879, Edison put on a display of how this system worked. After that, he spent the next few years building the electrical industry and power homes. The first power station, located on Pearl Street in Manhattan, provided electricity to homes in one square mile.
Despite being named the inventor of the light bulb, Thomas Edison simply wanted to create a safe use for light bulbs in the home. He wanted to do it as cheap as possible to improve quality of life, so he improved the design of the light bulb and invented an elaborate system to carry electricity. Thomas Edison didn't make the light bulb; he made it better.