The generalisation of the light bulb transformed our world. It radically changed our habits by bringing light where it once depended on the sun or candles, giving us full control of our daily cycles. It also extended working hours and allowed us to enjoy nightlife both at home and on the street.
The origin of the light bulb goes back to 1800 when Humphry Davy demonstrated the existence of the electric arc, i.e. the electric discharge that occurs between two electrodes subjected to different charges caused by artificial light. Such experimentation took a leap forward thirty years later when James Bowman Lindsay first lit an incandescent light bulb using direct current.
Since then, scientists have tried to create new light bulbs that have a longer lifespan and are made of more economical materials.
In 1880 Thomas Edison presented a design that was the final development of almost a century of experimentation with these "light capsules". Its carbon filament incandescent bulb was 40 hours long and relatively inexpensive to mass-produce. This design with patent number 285,898 was the first commercially viable light bulb in history.
Over time, Edison's contribution to the energy industry became more significant. He devised an electrical distribution system using pipes and cables. In addition, it upgraded existing power generation systems and created the first electricity meter.
In 1904, William Coolidge proposed implementing tungsten filament instead of carbon. This metal is denser than iron and lead, and extremely resistant to temperature. Ten years later, Irving Langmuir postulated that using nitrogen inside tungsten light bulbs would be more effective. However, despite the scientists' efforts to improve Edison's design, the original idea was more stable.
With the advent of LEDs, the incandescent light bulbs are slowly disappearing, and that's just as well! They are much less durable than diodes, they need to be replaced more often, which is a cost to people and a considerable amount of bulbs wasted every year. Likewise, incandescent light bulbs tend to overheat to the point of being dangerous due to the risk of burns and the emission of carbon into the atmosphere.
Read more about Why LED Is Best For Your Wallet on our recent blog post!
But there's no need to mourn his departure. For almost two centuries, the light bulb was a great ally for humanity. Now its son, the LED, will shelter us in the dark nights and revolutionise history (just as his predecessor did).