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Who Invented the Light Bulb?

You want to know who invented the light bulb, you need to be specific about what kind of bulb. You also need to decide if you want to know who made the first working model, or who first made a practical model.

Who Invented the Light Bulb?

Arc Lamp

The invention of the first light bulb started in 1801. Sir Humphrey Davy ran an electric current through two platinum strips. The strips didn't last long, but it was a start. He continued working on it, and in 1809, he created the arc lamp. Instead of platinum, he used two charcoal rods. However, it was impractical because the light generated was intense. Not only was it too bright, but also it took a lot of power to operate. It rapidly drained the batteries. When electric generators were invented, the problem of power was solved. So, arc lamps were used where a bright light was needed, like in lighthouses, searchlights, or industrial plants.

Incandescent Light

Some inventors wanted to re-invent the arc lamp and make it useful in homes and businesses. Others thought it would be better to find another way to generate light. This was called incandescence. When electricity is passed through some materials, its temperature rises. If it gets sufficiently hot, the material starts to glow. There were two hurdles to overcome with this approach including the material burning or melting. In order for a substance to burn, oxygen must be present. The only way to remove oxygen was to put the material in a container and vacuum it out. In 1814, the patent was given to Frederick de Moleyns for an incandescent lamp. In a vacuum, powdered charcoal was heated between 2 platinum wires.

A Better Bulb

After initial developments, many people continued trying to make a better bulb. They knew that whoever did this would be rich. In 1878, a man named Thomas Edison joined other inventors in the race to improve the light bulb.

Thomas Edison was born in Milan, Ohio on February 11, 1847. He did poorly in school, so his mother taught him at home. For his first job, at age thirteen, he was a newspaper boy. He later had an opportunity to learn the skills to be a telegrapher, and he did that full time when he was sixteen. His education was mostly self-taught, and soon he became an inventor. His first patent, an electric vote recorder, was granted in 1869, and it was a failure, but Edison continued working in the field of inventions, deciding to try his hand at revolutionizing the light bulb.

Others had used a vacuum bulb to eliminate oxygen, but the platinum still melted at high temperatures. Edison and his staff set out to solve this problem. Soon they realized the material being burned needed to have high electrical resistance. In other words, when electricity passes through it, it heats easily. They started testing high-resistant substances. In 1879, Edison and his workers began to get results. By the end of the next year, they had chosen bamboo to make the filaments, or threads, and these burned for 600 hours. By 1882, Edison's power company was lighting New York City.

In England, Joseph Swan was also working on improving the light bulb. He used carbon paper to make the filaments, instead of bamboo. He got a patent in 1878 for his light bulb. Just like Edison, he started his own power company. Since he used Edison's idea of high-resistant filaments, Edison sued him for patent infringement. Soon, they stopped fighting and formed a company together, Edison-Swan United, which was one of the biggest producers of light bulbs in the world.

Who Invented the Light Bulb?

Like with many inventions, clearly, there are multiple answers to who invented the light bulb. Some say Edison, others give dual credit to Edison and Swan, and still others give credit to Davy for the original idea. In reality, all three should be credited with creating this easy-to-use source of light.