Term Paper on The Light Bulb

We are living in a modern electrified world. It might be argued that which electrical appliances deserve a top place on a list of the most significant inventions of science. The light bulb, in particular, greatly changed our lives by illuminating the night. The electric light, one of the daily conveniences that most affects human lives, was invented in 1879 by Thomas Sir Joseph Wilson Swan in England and Alva Edison in the United States.

But, the history of the light bulb actually goes back to 1811, when Sir Humphrey Davy revealed that an electrical arc passed between two poles can produce light. In 1841, experimental arc light bulbs, similar to today’s street light, were installed along the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Many other experiments were undertaken in United States and Europe, but the after some time arc light bulb proved impractical for everyday life because it burned out too quickly and it was messy. Many inventors continued to overcome the problem of developing a reliable and electric bulb that would be practical for both public and home use, as a viable alternative to gas light.

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For many year businessmen and inventors had been trying to invent a better light source powered by electricity. They had already worked out the main outline. It would be made of a thin strip in a vacuum, and when a current would pass through the thin strip it would glow. But they were not able to achieve this goal. The main problem was finding a thin strip (filament) that would not disintegrate. The problem was devising the right filament or a conductor, and inserting it in a container, or bulb, without oxygen because the oxygen would cause the bulb to burn.

In 1878 Edison decided to throw his resources and attention into the perfection of the light bulb. In the period from 1878 to 1880 Edison worked on at least two thousand different theories to develop a perfect and practical incandescent lamp.Incandescent lamps produce light by using electricity to heat a thin strip of material (filament) until it gets hot enough to glow. Many other inventors had also tried to perfect incandescent lamps to divide electric light in parts or make it weaker and smaller than it was in the existing arc lamps, which were way too bright for small spaces such as the rooms of a house. There were many other men, with prominent roles, involved in the perfection of the light bulb: John Kruesi, Charles Batchelor, Frances Upton and Francis Jehl. These men were willing to contribute their work and creative ideas to Edison for a very little or no credit.

For a short period carbon was used as material of choice for the filament. But due to the quality of the vacuums that could be created was very poor and carbon filaments also disintegrated quickly. Edison then switched to the more flexible material, platinum. But In 1879 he obtained an enhanced vacuum pump, called the Sprengel vacuum, and it proved to be a medium for a breakthrough. Edison switched back to his experiments with carbon filaments because he thought it would be more efficient and because platinum was too expensive.

He tested different carbon sources and on October 21st and 22nd he carbonized a piece of Clark's sewing thread to make a filament. It burnt for only thirteen hours, which was a huge breakthrough. Soon just by changing the shape of the filament to a horseshoe shape it burned for over hundred hours. Edison and his colleagues succeeded in inventing efficient and practical light bulb and by doing so they also opened many ways for the establishment of the electrical power system . Later by doing more experiments he produced filaments that burned longer and longer with each test. In the end of 1880, he produced a 16-watt bulb that could last for over fifteen hundred hours and then he started to market his new invention.

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In the beginning of twentieth century, William David of the General Electric Company of Schenectady invented the tungsten filament, which enhanced the longevity of the light bulb.

  1. David C. King, 1997 Thomas Alva Edison: The King of Inventors
  2. Margaret Cousins, 1997 Story of Thomas Alva Edison
  3. Neil Baldwin, 2001 Edison: Inventing the Century