“Who Invented the Light Bulb First? It Wasn’t Thomas Edison at All”

Today it is difficult for us to imagine life without light bulbs and electricity in general. Just 150 years ago, people were dependent on daylight and could only function in the faint light of candles when darkness fell.

Thomas Edison, the man with 1000 patents

In school, we are usually taught that Thomas Edison was the inventor of the light bulb, an American inventor and holder of over 1000 patents, including those in the fields of film and sound (the first motion picture camera with the ability to record sound on tape). Among his more macabre inventions, he is credited with creating the first electric chair.

However, both in the case of the light bulb and his other inventions, the matter is a bit more complicated. The 19th century, especially its second half, was a time of incredible progress in the field of inventions and great enthusiasm for science. Many scientists simultaneously came up with similar ideas, developing on the ideas of their predecessors. Others worked in teams under the leadership of entrepreneurial minds who saw research as a chance for profit. One such entrepreneur was Thomas Edison.

The history of the light bulb: decades of research, dozens of scientists

Edison’s patent was preceded by numerous inventions, starting from the first attempts made as early as the 18th century. In 1800, Italian inventor Alessandro Volta described the voltaic pile (the unit of electric potential is named after him). Soon after, in 1802, the Englishman Humphry Davy created the first primitive electric lamp, known as the arc lamp. It was very impractical, but it set the direction for further research.

The arc lamp was improved throughout the first half of the 19th century, but it was not until the second half of the century that the problem of short lifespan and low brightness of electric lamps was solved. This was achieved by the British scientist Joseph Wilson Swan. He is the actual inventor of the light bulb.

Swan conducted his experiments in the 1850s and 1860s and obtained a British patent for a carbon filament light bulb in 1860, instead of the platinum filament used at that time. After further refinements, he obtained a second patent in 1878, and his invention quickly began to be mass-produced and installed in homes in Great Britain.

Edison’s light bulb patent

Thomas Edison copied Swan’s idea, making slight improvements, and patented it in 1879, starting distribution in the United States. Despite initial competition, the two men eventually decided to join forces, founding a joint venture with Edison operating in the American market and Swan in the British market.

However, it was Edison’s name that ultimately made it into the history books, while Swan is mainly known to science enthusiasts today. This is undoubtedly due to Edison’s energetic activity in the field of science and business and his reputation as the “man with 1000 patents”.


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