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You might be mistaken about who really invented electric light

Thomas Alva Edison has gone down in history as the official inventor of the electric light bulb. But there were other people involved in this discovery. It was the tenacity of a host of other great inventors that managed to light up the night with incandescent light bulbs powered by electricity.

Nobody really invented ‘light’ per se. It has always been there, just like darkness and matter. However, what we are really talking about in this post is the invention of the light bulb, the first device used to generate light with an electric current.

A whole series of events had to happen before the light bulbs we have today could come into being. 

These everyday objects, thousands of which are manufactured per hour, may not seem particularly remarkable to us but the first light bulbs were handmade and extremely expensive. Producing them presented an enormous challenge to scientists, who had to perform hundreds of trials and tests. In this post we will travel back in time to where it all began.


QUOTE:  The history of artificial light spans more than 1200 years

Before Thomas Edison created a device that would transform electricity into light, a series of steps and discoveries had to take place to set the foundation for the modern light bulb. Edison used all these advances to create a new product in the market, new and strange, which would later be used by millions of people. However, it all started much earlier ...

“These days we manufacture thousands of units every hour, but the first bulbs were handmade."

Humphry Davy: Creator of the electric arc lamp

Our first historical figure is a British chemist who was born in 1778, and who, together with Alessandro Volta and Michael Faraday, is considered the founder of electrochemistry.

During his research and investigation into electrolysis, his great achievements separating elements and his lectures, he experimented with the first capacitors to later make a battery.

In 1816, he created a lamp that was used as safety equipment for miners to avoid explosions, which was called a "Davy Lamp".


Joseph Wilson Swan: The inventor of the incandescent light bulb

This English physicist and chemist is credited with the discovery of the electric light bulb.

In 1860, he created a glass bulb with a carbonised paper filament. As the electric current passed through this filament, it heated up and emitted light. The result was not entirely satisfactory, due to the lack of a total vacuum and the inefficiency of the lighting obtained; but it was a good starting point to continue perfecting the modern light bulbs that we have today. In fact, three years later, Swan patented a process to extrude nitrocellulose into fibres, which he stumbled upon while searching for a way to obtain the right filament for his invention.

This discovery not only gave rise to the current light bulb, but also benefited the textile industry, which used this way of making fibres in production processes.

“Joseph Wilson Swan's glass bulb with a carbonised paper filament was a starting point for perfecting the modern light bulb we know today.”

What was wrong with Swan's lamp?

In his tests, both incandescent metal, cotton and bamboo fibre filaments were sealed in a glass container, connecting two platinum threads.

The result was a functioning bulb, but its useful life was limited to just a few days and the light it give off was not very bright or stable.

The challenge was clear: they had to create filaments that would not melt due to heat if they were to provide longer-lasting bulbs and brighter light. And we say "they had to", because this is where Thomas Edison - popularly known as the inventor of the electric light bulb - comes in.

A lot of attempts were made to achieve it. At first, they tested cellulose filaments, before going on to try with metallised carbon, which gave out brighter light, but without achieving optimum performance. Eventually, they found a viable solution with metal filaments, specifically the so-called tungsten filament.

"The challenge was to prevent the filaments from melting due to the heat and to increase the intensity of the light and the useful life of the bulb."

Thomas Edison: a picture of persistence.

You won’t find a self-help or marketing book that does not mention Thomas Edison’s perseverance as the true cause of his success and, specifically, of the discovery of the light bulb. He does, in fact, embody many business values. It might even be said that, more than an inventor, he was a great entrepreneur.

His attitude earned him a place in history, but so did the work of his predecessors, which he perfected. The fact is that Thomas Edison just took things a few steps further, based on the work that Joseph Wilson Swan had already done. He succeeded in making the light bulb work more efficiently and last longer.

The next step was to get a patent and start marketing his product. This happened on 27 January 1880.

His incandescent bulb dates back to 1879, the year he set up his first electrical installation, consisting of 115 bulbs. Three years later, he produced the world's first electricity plant in New York, transporting electrical energy through underground networks.

But the light bulb was not his only patent. He was also the genius behind the kinetograph, a camera with 17 metres of film, and the kinetoscope, an individual eye piece used to view successive images.


Another great Thomas… but Spanish.

Light bulbs were first brought to Spain by Tomás Dalmau, who created a light bulb factory in Barcelona that he called La Sociedad de Electricidad in 1881.

His bulbs gradually spread nationwide. They first came on in the Paseo Colón in Barcelona, then the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, and finally, they reached all the streets across the Peninsula.


And the last and decisive genius is you.

Because as important as it is to have made electric light possible for us today, it is just as important to know how to make good use of it. In other words, by choosing the best rates for our lifestyles, caring for the environment, consuming wisely and responsibly ... and ultimately, committing to creating a better world by seeing the light.

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