125 years of Edison’s light bulb an invention that changed the world

(ORDO NEWS) — More than a century and a half ago, inventors began working on a brilliant idea that had a huge impact on how we use energy in the modern world – but the real breakthrough came on January 27, 1897.

This invention changed the way we design buildings, extended the average work day, and sparked new businesses. It has also led to new breakthroughs in energy, from power plants and transmission lines to household appliances and electric motors.

Like all great inventions, the light bulb cannot be attributed to a single inventor. It was a series of small improvements on the ideas of previous inventors that eventually led to the very lamps that we use today.

Incandescent light bulbs light up the world

Long before Thomas Edison patented—first in 1879 and then a year later in 1880—and began commercializing his incandescent light bulb, British inventors had already demonstrated that electric light could be produced with an arc lamp.

In 1835, the first permanent source of electric light was demonstrated, and over the next 40 years, scientists around the world worked on the incandescent lamp.

Their work centered around improving the filament (the part of the lamp that emits light when heated by an electric current) and the atmosphere inside the bulb (whether the bulb is evacuated or filled with an inert gas to prevent oxidation and burnout of the filament). Early incandescent light bulbs had an extremely short lifespan,

When Edison and his Menlo Park researchers took the stage, they focused on improving filament—first testing carbon, then platinum, before finally returning to carbon filament.

By October 1879, Edison’s group had made a carbonized filament light bulb from uncoated cotton filament that could last for 14.5 hours. They continued experimenting until they settled on a filament made from bamboo, which extended the life of the lamp to 1200 hours – this filament became the standard for Edison lamps for the next 10 years.

Edison also made other improvements to light bulb design: for example, he created a better vacuum pump to completely remove air from the light bulb, and developed the Edison screw (which is now the standard light bulb socket).

125 years of Edisons light bulb an invention that changed the world 2                                    Thomas Edison demonstrates his invention to the public

It is impossible to talk about the history of the electric light bulb without mentioning William Sawyer and Albon Maine, who received a patent in the United States for an incandescent lamp, and Joseph Swan, who patented his light bulb in England.

The age-old question that continues to be debated to this day: did Edison’s light bulb patents infringe on the patents of these other inventors?

Eventually the American Edison Lighting Company merged with the Thomson-Houston Electric Company—the Sawyer-Maine incandescent lamp company—to form General Electric, and Edison’s English Lighting Company merged with the Joseph Swan Company to form Ediswan in England)

What makes Edison’s contribution to electric lighting so outstanding is that he didn’t stop at improving the light bulb—he developed a whole host of inventions that made the use of light bulbs practical. Edison modeled his lighting technology on an existing gas lighting system.

In 1882, on the Holborn Viaduct in London, he demonstrated that electricity could be distributed from a centrally located generator through a series of wires and tubes.

At the same time, he focused on improving power generation by developing the first commercial power station called Pearl Street Station in Lower Manhattan. And in order to keep track of how much electricity each consumer consumes, Edison developed the first electric meter.

New era of electric light

While Edison was working on the entire lighting system, other inventors continued to make small improvements, refining the manufacturing process of the filament and increasing the efficiency of the lamp.

The next big change in the incandescent lamp came with the invention of the tungsten filament by European inventors in 1904. The new tungsten-filament incandescent lamps lasted longer and produced brighter light compared to carbon-filament incandescent lamps. In 1913, Irving Langmuir found that placing an inert gas, such as nitrogen, in a flask doubled its effectiveness.

Over the next 40 years, scientists continued to make improvements that lowered the cost and increased the efficiency of the incandescent light bulb. But by the 1950s, researchers still figured out how to convert about 10% of the energy consumed by an incandescent light bulb into light.

In the 19th century, two Germans, glassblower Heinrich Geissler and physician Julius Plücker, discovered that they could produce light by removing almost all the air from a long glass tube and passing an electric current through it.

This invention became known as the Geisler tube. A type of gas discharge lamp, these lamps did not become popular until the early 20th century, when researchers began looking for a way to improve lighting efficiency.

Discharge lamps have become the basis of many lighting technologies, including neon lamps, low pressure sodium lamps (the type used in outdoor lighting such as streetlights), and fluorescent lamps.

125 years of Edisons light bulb an invention that changed the world 3                                                                Geisler tube pattern

Both Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla experimented with fluorescent lamps in the 1890s, but neither ever produced them commercially. In this area, Peter Cooper Hewitt was more successful: his breakthrough invention in the early 1900s was one of the forerunners of the fluorescent lamp.

Hewitt created blue-green light by passing an electrical current through mercury vapor and turning on a ballast (a device connected to a light bulb that regulates the flow of current through a tube). Although more efficient than incandescent lamps, Cooper Hewitt lamps had few suitable applications due to the color of the light.

By the late 1920s and early 1930s, European researchers were experimenting with neon tubes coated with phosphor (a material that absorbs ultraviolet light and converts invisible light into usable white light).

These discoveries sparked research programs in the US on fluorescent lamps, and by the mid to late 1930s, American lighting companies were demonstrating fluorescent lamps to the US Navy and at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

These lamps lasted longer and were about three times more efficient than incandescent lamps. The need for energy efficient lighting in US military factories led to the rapid adoption of fluorescent lamps, and by 1951 linear fluorescent lamps were producing more light in the US.

Luminous wonder

Another energy shortage, the 1973 oil crisis, forced lighting engineers to develop a fluorescent lamp that could be used in residential areas. In 1974, researchers at Sylvania began to investigate how the ballast could be reduced in size and incorporated into a lamp.

Although they developed a patent for their light bulb, they were unable to find a way to manufacture it. Two years later, in 1976, Edward Hammer of General Electric figured out how to bend a fluorescent lamp into a coil, creating the first compact fluorescent light fixture.

Like Sylvania, General Electric shelved this project because the new equipment needed to mass-produce these lamps was too expensive.

125 years of Edisons light bulb an invention that changed the world 4

The first compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) hit the market in the mid-1980s for a retail price of $25-35, but prices could vary widely by region due to various promotions run by utilities. Consumers have cited the high price as the number one barrier to purchasing compact fluorescent lamps.

There were other problems—many CFLs from the 1990s were large and bulky, didn’t fit well in fixtures, had poor light output, and had inconsistent output.

Since the 1990s, improvements in CFL performance, price, efficiency (they use about 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs) and lifespan (they last about 10 times longer) have made them a viable option for renters and homeowners alike. . Nearly 30 years after.

The future is LED

One of the fastest growing lighting technologies today is LEDs. They use a semiconductor to convert electricity into light, often occupy a small area (less than 1 square millimeter), and emit light in a specific direction, reducing the need for reflectors and diffusers.

They are also the most efficient luminaires on the market. The efficiency of a light bulb, also called luminous efficiency, is a measure of the light emitted (lumens) divided by the power consumed (watts). A lamp with 100 percent efficiency in converting energy into light will have an efficiency of 683 lm/W.

By comparison, a 60 to 100 W incandescent lamp has an efficiency of 15 lm/W, an equivalent CFL has an efficiency of 73 lm/W, and modern LED replacement lamps on the market range from 70 to 100 W. 120 lm/W with an average efficiency of 85 lm/W.

In 1962, while working at General Electric, Nick Holonyak Jr. invented the first visible light-emitting diode in the form of red diodes.

Then pale yellow and green diodes were invented. As companies continued to improve red diodes and their production, they began to appear on the market in an increasing variety – and over the years there are more and more varieties of them. But it all started with a single light bulb…


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