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Did Thomas Edison really invent the light bulb?

thomas alva edison

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Edison didn’t invent the light bulb, but rather, he improved upon a 50 year old idea. Henry Woodward of Toronto, along with Mathew Evans, patented a light bulb in 1875. Unfortunately, the two entrepreneurs could not raise the finance to commercialise their invention.

The enterprising American, Thomas Edison, who had been working on the same idea, bought the rights to their patent. Edison, who had been working on the same idea, bought the rights to their patent. Edison had the backing of a syndicate of industrial interests with $50,000 to invest.

Using lower current, a small carbonized filament, and an improved vacuum inside the globe, Edison successfully demonstrated the light bulb in 1879, and made history.

thomas edison light bulb

image source: wikimedia commons



Sir Humphrey Davy of England invented the first electric carbon arc lamp in 1801. A. E. Becquerel of France theorized about the fluorescent lamp in 1857.

In 1850, English chemist Joseph Swan solved the cost-effectiveness problem of previous inventors by developing a light bulb that used carbonized paper filaments in place of one’s made of platinum. Like earlier renditions of the light bulb, Swan's filaments were placed in a vacuum tube to minimize their exposure to oxygen, extending their lifespan. Unfortunately for Swan, the vacuum pumps of his day were not efficient as they are now, and his first prototype for a cost-effective bulb never went to market.

The success of Edison's light bulb was followed by the founding of the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York in 1880. The company was started with financial contributions from J.P. Morgan and other wealthy investors of the time. The company constructed the first electrical generating stations that would power electrical system and newly patented bulbs. The first generating station was opened in September 1882 on Pearl Street in lower Manhattan.

Today, lighting choices have expanded and people can choose different types of light bulbs, including compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs work by heating a gas that produces ultraviolet light and LED bulbs use solid-state light-emitting diodes.