Thomas Edison Lightbulb

Let there be Light!Thomas Edison on Time Magazine

Historians agree that Thomas Edison was not the inventor of the electric light bulb, but he did produce the first commercially viable one. Earlier light bulbs were experimented with as far back as 1802; and there were 23 others who had invented light bulbs, some of whom were still working on them at the time of Edison’s work.

Three factors in combination are generally recognized as contributing to Edison’s success:

  1. A durable incandescent material
  2. Elimination of air from the bulb-a better vacuum
  3. A filament material of high resistance

This is an early sketch from Thomas Edison of his light bulb.


Thomas Edison’s serious incandescent light bulb research began in 1878, filing his first patent later that year…”Improvement In Electric Lights” in October 1878. His experiments involved the fabrication and testing of many different metal filaments, including platinum. Platinum was very difficult to work with, and prone to being weakened by heating and oxygen attack.


In addition, platinum was expensive, and too low in resistance; which would require heavy copper conductors in Edison’s electric distribution system he was designing to supply commercial installations of his bulbs. This system would later become the model for our modern electric utility power distribution system of today.

Edison then resorted to a carbon-based, high-resistance, filament. One year later in October 1879 Edison successfully tested a filament that burned for 13.5 hours. Continuing to improve his design, by November 1879, he filed for a U.S. patent for an electric lamp using “a carbon filament or strip coiled and connected … to platina contact wires”. The filament was made from a piece of carbonized thread.

From coneption to invention, this is one of Thomas Edison's early light bulbs.

By New Year’s he was demonstrating lamps using carbonized cardboard filaments to large crowds at the Menlo Park laboratory. It was not until several months after the patent was granted that Edison and his team discovered that a carbonized bamboo filament could last over 1200 hours. A year later, Edison began manufacturing commercial lamps using carbonized Japanese bamboo as filaments.

Throughout his career, Edison worked on many improvements to his signature invention, an invention that literally changed the way we live after dark. Prior to the light bulb, folks burned lamp oils or used manufactured natural gas for illumination, a rather dangerous way to provide illumination. Electric lights became cheap, safe, and convenient to use and the public and commercial concerns installed them in rapidly increasing numbers. The rest is history.

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22 Comments

  1. Cody Smith says:

    omg great site!!!!! good info for projects!!!
    :)

  2. Jack Lyon says:

    i am year 7 student and need info on thomas edison and this site in great it gives me all info for my project
    Jack Lyon´s last blog post ..Inventions Thomas Edison Would Love: Electric Vehicles Change the Grid

  3. Hannah says:

    This is a nice website but I don’t know any quotes that Edison said when he made the light bulb help meeee=))))

  4. Edison Innovation Foundation says:

    Hannah:
    The definitive book on Edison quotes is Michele Albion’s “The Quotable Edison”, University Press of Florida, 2011.
    I hope this helps.

    Best,
    Harry

  5. john says:

    to hannah:
    create and think carefully about some cited resources that you may see in the end of any proejct report and see if that may help you.

  6. hi says:

    cool i love edison and his invetions

  7. madelyn says:

    How old was he when he improved the light bulb?

  8. Edison Innovation Foundation says:

    Madelyn:

    Mr. Edison spent a great deal of his life working to improve the light bulb. He always tried to improve his many products.

    Harry

  9. Edison Innovation Foundation says:

    John:

    During his life, Edison amassed 1093 patents. If you count his overseas patents as well, that total jumps to over 2300.

    Harry

  10. Abby says:

    How many times did Thomas Edison try and make the light bulb? Please help!!!!

  11. Edison Innovation Foundation says:

    Abby:

    Check out this page on the site, http://www.edisonmuckers.org/thomas-edison-lightbulb/, for more info on Edison’s light bulb.

    He probably conducted several thousand experiments to get the bulb filaments to work; and he continued to perfect the bulb for many years afterward.

    Harry

  12. Elizabeth says:

    I’m writing a research paper, and I’m trying to cited this page. When was this page created?

  13. Edison Innovation Foundation says:

    Elizabeth:

    This page was published on 2/20/2011.

    Harry

  14. Zuhan says:

    THis website has helped alot for my project it has given me more info than Wikipedia This website should Officially be described in the one word BOSS!!!

  15. Edison Innovation Foundation says:

    Thank you Zuhan! Stop by often as we are always adding more cool stuff.

    Harry

  16. Carol Skiba says:

    I have a pair of matching early electric lanterns with silver round base and rose-colored globes. I believe the light bulbes (hopefully)are Edison’s. They have a flicker I cannot duplicate, as they have burned out, and I am stubborn to replace these flickering bulbs only with “originals”. The neck of the lanterns fit the lightbulb’s dimensions perfectly. I am seeking any information, to locate similar lighting, in hopes to find, the maker of the lanterns and/or the maker of the flickering light bulbs. They came from a home that was owned by Walter C. Baker, in Lakewood, Ohio. Edison was a friend of Walter, and attempted to make an electric battry for Baker’s electric auto-in the early 1900’s. This is why I believe the bulbs are Edison-authentic. How can I verify this statement?

  17. Edison Innovation Foundation says:

    Carol:

    Thanks for writing. Here below is contact information for the Thomas Edison National Historical Park [TENHP] in West Orange NJ. Address your questions to the Curator or Archivist.
    They would be best able to help you.

    Harry

    By Mail
    Thomas Edison National Historical Park
    211 Main Street
    West Orange, NJ 07052-5612

    By Phone
    Visitor Information
    973-736-0550 ext. 11

    By Fax
    973-736-6567

  18. Hemant Manhas says:

    THIS SITE IS AMAZING….
    MR:EDISON HELP ME FOR MAKE MY PROJECT & TELL ME MORE ABOUT LIGHT BULB…..

  19. I’ve read some good stuff here. Certaiinly price booklmarking for revisiting.
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  20. Caroline says:

    I appreciate your effort, thank you for giving me so much information about Thomas Alva Edison.

  21. Caroline says:

    I appreciate your effort, thank you for giving me so much information about Thomas Alva Edison.
    I was just wondering if there’s an article for Thomas Edison about his first light bulb and the improvements up to 1880?

  22. Claire says:

    I’m doing a research paper on Thomas Edison and this site is perfect for getting info on the light bulb.

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