Weddings | Birthdays | Wedding anniversaries | Flowers | Party Games | Burns Night | Christmas | Father's Day | Mother's Day | Thanksgiving | Independence Day | Valentine's Day | Contact | Presents | Poems for Occasions | Easter | Baby shower | April Fool's | Baby shower | Baby names | Become a contributor | Anniversary gifts
Who invented the light bulb?
You might think this is an easy question to answer, and a lot of people would say "Thomas Edison" except it wasnt. And although Edison was a very good inventor, he really didnt invent this one but he did make a commercial version and more. So heres how it happened:
Early light bulbs
The next time the electric light appeared was, apparently, in 1835 when the Scotsman, James Bowman Lindsay, demonstrated a light that had enough power to read by. However as far as he was concerned, having developed it sufficiently, he moved on to other things. It was Warren de la Rue, a British scientist, who in 1840 put the light emitting platinum coil in a vacuum and so slowed the oxidation process and gave a bulb that would last much longer. Unfortunately platinum was very expensive meaning the device could not be developed commercially.
A year later, in 1841, another Englishman, Frederick de Moleyns, was awarded a British patent for his design using powdered charcoal. In 1845, John Wellington Starr, an American was awarded a patent for his version using carbon filaments. He died shortly afterwards. Ten years later, 1855, a Frenchman, Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, demonstrated his light bulbs in Blois.
One to ignore is the German-American Heinrich Göbel who claimed hed invented the fully working light bulb (using the same design as Edisons final working version) in 1854. The person who actually blew the glass in the 1880s proved Göbel to be a liar.
The commercial light bulb
Meanwhile, in Canada, Henry Woodrow and Matthew Evans filed and acquired both Canadian and US patents in 1874. They were using a carbon filament but failed to commercialise their design.
This, finally, is where Thomas Edison enters the story. He liked the approach of Woodrow and Evans and bought their patents for $5000. However, as the story goes, he did not have the money he needed to develop their ideas into a commercial design. So he claimed that he actually did have a working design and needed investment money to build the factory to produce it. Then used the investment to develop a commercial design which he patented in 1878. His next patent in 1880 had various designs for the filament but it wasnt until several months later that he finally discovered that a filament made of carbonised bamboo would last for 1200 hours.
Once Edison had proved that long-lasting filaments could be made it was a virtual free-for-all, everyone and his dog was working on designs that would last longer. Major players were Hiram S. Maxim who started his own company to sell light bulbs, and his employee Lewis Latimer, who together developed what we would generally recognise as the modern light bulb.
Edison vs Swan
Edison had trouble over his patents because they were based on someone elses "prior art" however he eventually won out in 1889.
Why is Edison remembered as the "inventor of the light bulb"? Primarily because, as a very commercially minded inventor, he didnt just develop a working light bulb; he realised that a whole infra-structure was needed to support it and he designed that as well the complete electricity distribution system needed.
So the final answer to the question "Who invented the light bulb?" is: Lots of people.