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.


122 thoughts on “Thomas Edison Lightbulb

  1. Hannah

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

  2. Edison Innovation Foundation Post author

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


  3. john

    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.

  4. Edison Innovation Foundation Post author


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


  5. Edison Innovation Foundation Post author


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


  6. Zuhan

    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!!!

  7. Edison Innovation Foundation Post author

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


  8. Carol Skiba

    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?

  9. Edison Innovation Foundation Post author


    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.


    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

  10. Hemant Manhas


  11. Caroline

    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?

  12. Claire

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

  13. Led Lys

    Tesla was the man, but without Edison it would have probably taken a while to see the first viable prototypes in the market.

    Anyways, great little article right there; thanks.

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    Thank you for another excellent article. The place else may anyone get that type of info in such a perfect way of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I am on the look for such information.

  17. nick

    How did Thomas Edison generate wealth. Who else benefits from this. How did he achieve success. What is most remarkable about this person. Who helped him succeed

  18. Isabel

    Wow! This website has got great info for projects! This has helped me so much with my project about the lightbulb. Thanks so much!

  19. carol

    It has been carried down for generations that my great-great grandfather worked for Thomas Edison and that it was he who actually invented the light bulb. How could I find out more information? Is there some place a registry of who actually worked for Thomas Edison? I would like to confirm and continue to pass this info to my grandchildren

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  21. Hist 110 Student

    Edison’s invention of the lightbulb paved the way for many events in our history. His invention made it possible for the U.S to industrialize, become a pull nation in push times and develop the telephone, film, ant the type writer.

  22. Taylor

    In Professor Blum’s History 110 class, he talked about how Thomas Edison created the electric lamp (“light bulb”). Edison was able to get patent that gave him the rights to create the electric lamp. This invention paved the many for many more and created the Edison General Electric Company (1890).

  23. Yosef

    Wow! When I learned that Thomas Edison didn’t invent the light bulb, I was shocked. This cite mentions everything that my professor covered in my history class. For example, we discussed how Edison did not invent the light bulb. Also there was a corporation named, Edison Electric Light Company in 1878. One of the most fascinating fact is that Henry Ford work for Edison General Company. Overall since my professor discussed about “How Light Made Night” It reminded me how amazing it is to have light. Without light, our everyday activities would have been very different. Thank you Edison!!!!!

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  26. Josh

    Im doing this for a school porject .. I didt get enougfh info about how it s made and the matriles used

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