The “official” inventor of electric light is the American Thomas Alva Edison , who on October 22, 1879 succeeded in his attempt to illuminate an incandescent light bulb with electricity. However, as we shall see, to say that Edison was the inventor of light is a bit of an oversimplification, because his discovery was based on the work of other predecessors.
That first Edison light bulb lasted 13 and a half hours and marked the beginning of a process of constant improvement, which has brought us the electric light we enjoy today.
We tell you everything you need to know about the inventor of light, how he was and some very interesting curiosities on the subject.
Was Edison really the inventor of electric light?
Edison was the first to make a high-resistance carbon filament glow with the passage of electric current and hold .
That filament, inside a glass bell, spread its lighting efficiently, creating the first electric light bulb . Until then, the lighting of streets and houses was powered by gas, oil, kerosene and derivatives.
However, Edison, like all inventors, relied on the advances of many other discoverers who pioneered the field of electricity.
For example, Alessandro Volta, who invented the electric battery among many other things (the terms volt and voltage were created in his honor) was the first who managed to make a filament glow by passing current through it. And he did it no less than in 1800, 79 years before.
That is why, technically, Edison was not the first to create an incandescent lamp: Henry Woodward, Mathew Evans, Humphry Davy, James Bowman Lindsay and many other inventors had already created lamps of this type. That is why Edison built on the works of at least 22 of his predecessors.
Why then is Edison considered the inventor of the electric light?
Because he was the first to design one that would last, consume a reasonable amount of energy, and be safe .
All the previous models were barely holding, required a lot of current or were too expensive and unsustainable. Edison invented the durable, cheap, and reliable electric light. However, he had to compete for the title of inventor of light in court and there are those who consider that he was not the first.
Edison, Sawyer, Woodward… If they could see how their inventions evolved and inspired others, they would be surprised that, finally, we have managed to eliminate the main obstacle of electricity to make responsible consumption
William Sawyer, the case of the inventor of the electric light in Great Britain… a year earlier
William E. Sawyer was an English inventor who managed to design an incandescent lamp similar to Edison’s, and in fact, he had registered the patent a year earlier in Great Britain .
This would make Sawyer the true first inventor of light. Reinforcing this, the United States Patent Office recognized, in 1883, that Edison’s work had been based on Sawyer’s.
However, Edison disputed that claim in court for six years, until his improvement of a “high-strength carbon filament” was recognized as valid .
In fact, Edison and Sawyer formed a joint company to develop and distribute the invention in England, saving further legal battles.
The first applications of the light bulb from the inventor of electric light
As Edison finally got a reliable light, which did not require much energy, it had an almost immediate application.
The following year, in 1880, the Oregon Railroad & Navigation steamship Columbia lit its rooms with 118 Edison light bulbs. In 1881, New York is the first city in the world with a light and power plant, and it begins to be illuminated with electric bulbs , which would gradually replace gas ones. Interestingly, the cables to carry the power were underground, rather than elevated.
Anecdotally, the first public building to use electric light was not in the United States, but in what is now the Czech Republic. The Mahen Theater in Brno was the first to have electric lights in 1883 and the installation was overseen by Edison’s own assistant Francis Jehl.
The evolution of that light bulb to the present day
Edison, Sawyer, Woodward… If you could see how their inventions evolved and inspired others, they would be surprised that, finally, we have managed to eliminate the main stumbling block of electricity for responsible consumption. And it is that incandescent bulbs, until a few years ago, had the problem that only 10% of the electricity was converted into light .
And the rest? It turned into heat. This posed problems of waste and even safety, as some light bulbs got so hot that they could ignite whatever was placed on top of them, for example. Today we have solved that problem with low consumption LED lighting, which we always recommend at Enérgya-VM.
Thus, the inventor of the official electric light is Thomas Alva Edison but, as Newton said of himself, he rose high because he was able to stand on the shoulders of giants.
That is, he took advantage of the discoveries and work of many other previous inventors, improving and shaping the current electric light.