Edison Didn’t Invent the 1st Light Bulb, Just the best. And No One Remembers the Other Guys


Looks Like Me Trying to Forecast

Looks Like Me Trying to Forecast

Edison Invention Factory

Edison Invention Factory

On This Date in History: In 1876, Thomas Edison did perhaps the smartest thing he ever did. He created an invention factory. He moved his staff of 15 people into a large clapboard building filled with all sorts of scientific equipment and chemicals in Menlo Park, New Jersey which was then just a small rural hamlet. I’m not certain but it may have been the first research laboratory ever established and Edison proclaimed that he would produce “a minor invention every ten days and a big thing every six months or so.” At the time, many thought the claim was preposterous but 10 years later, Edison had been granted 420 patents…that averages out to one every 3.5 months.

First Edison Light Bulb

First Edison Light Bulb

Perhaps his most famous invention was the first practical incandescent light bulb. Note the word “practical.” See, other people had applied for patents for lights but they didn’t last too long. They tried to “sub-divide” electric light or somehow make it weaker. Edison for his part kept trying to use a filament to electrify and make glow. He kept trying platinum but it kept burning up. So, he used a sort of cardboard covered in carbon but that didn’t work so well either until he created a vacuum in glass. The filament didn’t burn but instead glowed brightly. On this date in 1879, Thomas Alva Edison lit up the new year by demonstrating for the first time publically his incandescent light.

Southern Exposition 1883

Southern Exposition 1883

A couple of other items. First off, by June 1882, Edison had demostrated how the light could be used in a system and wires were laid and a small area of New York was illuminated. But, on August 1, 1883 20,000 incandescent lights burned brightly in the largest display ever seen in the world. I believe that represented more lights than existed in all of New York City. The place of this display? Louisville, Kentucky at the Southern Exposition. The building was a huge palacial area that stood for five years during the time of the exposition. It stood where you will find St. James Court today. Now, Edison gets all of the credit for the electric light and a whole slew of other inventions. But, he had an entire staff working for him. I’ve always wondered how many of those inventions really came about due to the ideas and work of his staff. Certainly it was Edison’s inspiration, but I wonder about the rest. I suppose it may be a case of those who have the gold makes the rules.

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6 Responses

  1. Edison deserves credit for putting together an organization that would invent items specifically for profit. I would say that perhaps his was the first (or maybe one of the first) industrial research facility. It was a lot of trial and error and perhaps not as systematic as a true academic research would have been. But his research was focused not so much for the expansion of knowledge but rather for invention of products for profit: It was a business!

    They knew that running a current through a small conductor would generate light but didn’t understand that the hot wire was more subject to oxidation which is why it didn’t last long: It burned up! Putting the filament in a vacuum removed the oxygen and kept the hot wire from oxidizing. This is what made the wire last. I wonder if they really understood what was happening or they just tried a vacuum as a matter of trial and error. Either way, it was clever and it worked. The rest is history!

  2. I wonder what Edison would say if he knew that, at least in Europe, Canada and the US, people are hoarding his light bulbs as governments declare them “luminescence non grata”. It is the most absurd thing in the world, but absurdity seems to be a growth stock at this point.

    Speaking of profit, I wonder how much our 100W incandescents will be worth in 2020? ;-)

  3. i like it

  4. You know symonsez, I actually blogged about this earlier on my own weblog. Your article has really provided me with lots of food for thought and I feel you made many very important points. In fact, I really wish I’d seen it earlier, before posting my own post.

  5. I am bored working on this school project about Edison. I need to findout why he thought of making a light bulb and i cant find the answer.

  6. Cassandra, keep working on it. It’s a good question. I believe that there were others working on it too. Just like the Telephone….someone else besides Alex was working on it too and the Wrights weren’t the only ones working on an airplane.

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