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.


123 thoughts on “Thomas Edison Lightbulb

  1. Jimi

    Is it true that Edison made up to 1,000 attempts/efforts before he finally succeeded on Bulb invention? Please clarify this.

  2. Dylan Young

    I am a Mechanical Engineering student and this was more than enl8ghtening.. I had guessed he had success with tungsten. I had no idea it was carbonized bamboo that provided him with his success in the longevity of his buld. Good read!

  3. Pingback: Entering Edison | Andrew Stover

  4. B. K.

    As usual the historical truth concerning the light bulb and Edison is incomplete. Lewis H. Latimer was an African American draftsman and inventor who worked for Maxim,Edison’s rival. However no one mentions his patents for the light bulb or the 1st viable light bulbs and improvements to an industry he helped create. Keep in mind the racism of the day & the eugenics movement. Both of which most likely help conceal the historical truth. Hope you are a bit more enlightened.

  5. B. K.

    He later worked for and with Edison and was charged with drafting and setting up early power stations in NY, Canada and Europe. Check U.S. patent office for his other notable inventions ad improvements. Toilets on trains, he also drafted the telephone for Alexander Graham Bell. One to grow on…inductee i. The inventors Hall of Fame…

  6. kaylee

    what interesting facts did he think of the light bulb i am doing this for a school project and i cant find a web site so can you please put what he thought of the light bulb in the essa thing please please please would you do it,because if i dont find a site i will get an “F” on my paper so please put what he thought abput the light bulb in there please

  7. taylor king

    yea right there is more information on the light bulb then this unless they put more informaton i’ll never use the website ever again

  8. jack russell and babies

    They have many good qualities, however their tops are solid, and I refer to being able to see Chloe from above,
    for both her comfort and mine. If you may need more information regarding online pet store Singapore, visit pet boarding.

    Given their domineering streak, Jack Russells would want to challenge
    other dogs they think are obtaining the attention they deserve.

  9. Eli

    I need information of what materials he first used for the filaments because this is after he suceeded

    And it didn’t give much info. And this is for a school project Very disappointing guys!

  10. Pingback: Edison’s School of Filmcraft and Wizardry – Hammer to Nail

  11. Ed

    Edison did NOT invent the light bulb. Period. It is a well known fact to historians that several dozen inventors were using inferior light bulbs trying to make them commercially viable. They were easy to break and also gave off a dim light. One of these inventors Carl Munck a German immigrant had used several filaments and one was a carbonized bamboo. Edison didn’t really “steal” this idea but rather “borrowed” it from a worker. With this Edison made the first bulb that would last a few weeks and not burn or break. Tesla also had ideas “removed” from him when he worked for Edison. Tesla was far more a pioneer than Thomas Edison.

  12. AndrewB

    South Foreland lighthouse at Dover, England, had been using a carbon arc electric light bulb since 1859, twenty years before Edison ‘invented’ it!

  13. Talia Mingo

    I am doing a report on Thomas Edison and other people might have came up with the idea but Thomas was the one that made it happen!!!

  14. Watlon Kelly

    It’s a very informative topic. The history behind the discovery of bulb was unknown. Now have came to know about it. So, thank you for this article.

  15. Pingback: creative iteration - stepping toward great solutions

  16. Maggie Wood

    When I visited the Edison winter home in Ft. Myers, FL in 1975 the bamboo filament light bulbs he installed there in what I think was the turn of the century were still burning. He took out a new patent every time he updated to a new and better filament material. Edison held over 1,000 patents.

  17. Papu_Franku

    Can I please have the name of the author who wrote this? I need it to cite this page. Just amazing.

  18. RH

    Craigside House in England, bulit by industrialist William Armstrong, was the firs house lit by electricity in 1878. He installed a Seimens water genrator in a nearby creek and lit the house with arc lamps. (UV is not good for the eyes, though.) Electricity replaced his 1863 hyrdraulic power. There were hydraulic washinmg machines, rotiseries, and an elevator between floors. The arc lamps were replaced in 1880 by incandescent bulbs.

  19. Pingback: Limelight Illumination - World of Standards

  20. TommyCord

    Other notable Edison inventions are the motion picture camera (movies) and the phonograph (voice recorder).

Leave a Reply