Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Tuesday 12th December 2017 | Manchester, UK

Edison’s Light Bulb

The invention of the light bulb was a process that took the scientific community the best part of the 19th century to complete and perfect. It was on 27 January 1880 that Thomas Edison, a relative newcomer to the field of research, was able to patent his light bulb design and make it ready for mass production.

This pioneering invention has gone down as one of the most important in world history; it was able to transform the world at the time of its creation and is still hugely significant in the lives of people today. The darkness of night had been illuminated, which altered the work and leisure patterns of many people. Of course, Thomas Edison took a comprehensive share of the plaudits for achieving this astounding feat, but the history of electric lighting can be traced back to when Alessandro Volta made copper glow as a result of his experiment to create the battery in 1800.

For most historians, it has become widely accepted that Thomas Edison was not the original inventor of the light bulb. English scientist Joseph Swan had exhibited his own prototype in December 1878, the same year that Edison had begun work on his own design. The issue with these bulbs concerned the length of time they provided light for, usually only lasting a matter of minutes. Edison could see where Swan was going wrong, and claimed that he and his team had tested over six-thousand materials in his quest to find an appropriate filament. He finally had a practical option when carbonised bamboo was tested. It was a resilient, incandescent material with a high resistance, which was cheap to produce, and would last for 1200 hours.

Edison’s light bulb was revolutionary. He took his invention around the globe, exhibiting it in Paris in 1881 and at the Crystal Palace in London the following year, showing the widespread demand that this scientific feat had managed to garner. He exclaimed that it gave out “one of the most brilliant lights which the world has ever seen”, and it quickly began to replace lighting options such as candles, gas, and oil-based lamps which were unsafe because of the fire risk that they posed.

Edison was able to deliver light to the world in a way that no one before him had been able to. It was just one in a multitude of important inventions that he brought to the world, which also included the phonograph and a primitive version of the motion picture camera. However, the light bulb itself has become the symbol of imagination and innovation, a testament to the creation that Edison was able to perfect.

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Caption: Thomas Edison, known as ‘The Wizard of Menlo Park’, creator of the first commercially viable light bulb. Sourced from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thomas_Edison2.jpg, by Louis Bachrach

Written by Jake Gill

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