Today, flicking a switch and bathing a space in light has become an almost mindless process. Yet prior to the invention of the humble lightbulb, this simple act was nothing but a far-fetched dream. So how did the lightbulb come to be, and who was behind its revolutionary invention? Read on as we explore the history of the lightbulb and the bright minds behind its invention.
Thomas Edison steals the spotlight
Ask anyone and they'll generally credit Thomas Edison with the invention of the lightbulb (hence the term edison light bulbs). While the world famous American did play an integral role in its development, he wasn't the only one to help pioneer the ground breaking technology.
The early days
The history of the lightbulb can be traced back far beyond Edison's first commercial bulb patent in 1879. In 1800 Italian physicist and chemist Alessandro Volta developed the voltaic pile, a mechanism that's renowned as the very first practical method of generating electricity. Manufactured with alternating copper and zinc discs interspersed with layers of salt water soaked cardboard, the primitive battery is considered by many as one of the first glimmers of incandescent lighting.
Volta had set sparks flying and just two years English chemist and inventor Humphrey Davy successfully built the world's first electric arc lamp. By connecting voltaic piles with charcoal electrodes Davy created a luminous arc between the dual carbon rods. While it was a clever invention it burn out quickly and was far too bright for everyday use. However the basic principle set the foundations for further advancements throughout the 1800s.
38 years later British scientist Warren de la Rue industrialised an efficient bulb by replacing the copper element with a coiled platinum filament. It was far more practical than its predecessors yet the cost of platinum made it too expensive for commercial production.
1850 saw chemist Joseph Swan drive down the price of production by utilising carbonised paper filaments. The filaments were slipped into a vacuum tube in order to minimise oxygen exposure and increase longevity of the lamp.
Let there be light, and efficiency!
After purchasing an electric lamp patent off Canadians Henry Woodward and Matthew Evans in 1879, Edison and his team of New Jersey based researchers began testing over 3000 bulb designs. In 1879 they finally unveiled a carbon filament version that was tested using various materials, including cotton, linen, wood and eventually bamboo.
Ever changing technologies
Light bulbs have come a long way since the early 1800s and 21st century inventors are still pioneering exciting new technologies such as gas powered compact fluorescents and ultra-efficient LEDs.