It is widely believed that Thomas Edison was the inventor of the very first light bulb in 1879? The actual

It is widely believed that Thomas Edison was the inventor of the very first light bulb in 1879? The actual history of the light bulb is quite a bit older than that. Like most great inventions, the light bulb can’t be credited to one inventor. Many people helped this innovation by providing small improvements on the works of other inventors that led to the technology of the light bulbs we use today.


In 1806, Humphrey Davy introduced an electric arc lamp to the Royal Society in Britain. This invention created light via an electrical spark generated between two rods made of charcoal. Although this was a major innovation, it was not practical for most people to use. It was too bright to be used in everyday life in a home or a business. It also used huge amounts of power which drained batteries in a small amount of time. With the invention of the electric generator, which greatly reduced the consumption of power, people used arc lights for searchlights.

For the next 40 plus years scientists continued to improve on the filament which is the part of the bulb that produces light when heated by an electrical current. These early bulbs had short lifespans and used way too much energy for the amount of light they produced. A handful of inventors tried to improve the bulbs design by enclosing the burner in a glass container and pump out the oxygen. One such bulb was patented in 1841 by Frederick DeMoleyns. While these concepts were innovative they were impractical for everyday use.

The Edison Effect:

When Edison came onto the lighting scene he focused on improving the filament. He worked with carbon and platinum before a bamboo filament became the standard for the Edison bulb for the next 10 years. There has been much debate on whether Edison’s light bulb patents infringed on other inventors’ patents. Eventually Edison’s company merged with others working in the field to collaborate their efforts.

While Edison definitely moved the light bulbs progress forward more than any other individual, he really was building off of the works of many other scientists and inventors. His collaborative efforts did however pave the way for many of the technological breakthroughs that were still to come.

The Advent of Fluorescent Lights:

In the 1890s Both Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla experimented with fluorescent lamps. However, it was Peter Cooper Hewitt in the early 1900s that is known for the first fluorescent lamp. Hewitt created a blue-green light by passing an electric current through mercury vapor and incorporating a ballast. While these lamps were much more efficient than incandescent bulbs there was little interest commercially due to the color of the light. By the mid and late 1930s, fluorescent lights were being used by the U.S. Navy and at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. These lights were about three times more efficient than incandescent bulbs and lasted much longer.

The 1973 oil crisis helped usher in the development of a fluorescent bulb that could be used residentially. In 1974 researchers at Sylvania worked on miniaturizing the ballast. Two years later in 1976 General Electric figured out how to bend the fluorescent tube into a spiral shape creating the first compact fluorescent light (CFL). Early CFLs hit the market in the mid-1980s at retail prices of $25 or more. Consumers were slow to react due to high price. Nearly 30 years after CFLs were first introduced on the market many of these bulbs now cost less than $2 per bulb.


One of the fastest developing lighting technologies today is the light-emitting diode (or LED). In 1962 while working for General Electric, Nick Holonyak, Jr. invented the first visible-spectrum LED. These breakthroughs led to LEDs being used in a variety of applications including traffic lights, flashlights and TVs. Since 2008 the cost of LED bulbs has fallen more than 85 percent with many retailers selling LEDs at $10 or less. Today’s LED bulbs are much more efficient than conventional incandescent lights. They use 80% less energy and last 25 times longer.

Although it is likely that the ever evolving light bulb will continue to improve it’s efficiency over time, none of these improvements would be possible were it not for many great innovators over the past 200 years.

Matt Helland
Sr VP of Client Relations





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