Did Thomas Edison Really Invent the Light Bulb?
Thomas Edison didn’t invent the light bulb, but rather, he improved upon a fifty-year-old idea, the famous American inventor wasn’t the only one who contributed to the development of this revolutionary technology. Many notable figures are also remembered for their work with electric batteries, lamps and the creation of the first incandescent bulbs.
Henry Woodward of Toronto, along with Matthew Evans, patented a light bulb in 1875. Unfortunately, the two entrepreneurs could not raise the finance to commercialize their invention. The enterprising American, Thomas Edison, who had been working on the same idea, bought the rights to their patent.
Edison had the backing of a syndicate of industrial interests with $50,000 to invest. Using lower current, a small carbonized filament, and an improved vacuum inside the globe, Edison successfully demonstrated the light bulb in 1879, and made history.
Sir Humphrey Davy of England invented the first electric carbon arc lamp in 1801. In 1840, British scientist Warren de la Rue developed an efficiently designed light bulb using a coiled platinum filament in place of copper, but the high cost of platinum kept the bulb from becoming a commercial success.
And in 1848, Englishman William Staite improved the longevity of conventional arc lamps by developing a clockwork mechanism that regulated the movement of the lamps’ quick-to-erode carbon rods. But the cost of the batteries used to power Staite’s lamps put a damper on the inventor’s commercial ventures.
A.E. Becquerel of France theorized about the fluorescent lamp in 1857. Sir Joseph Swann of England and Thomas Edison both invented the first electric incandescent lamps around the 1870s.
In 1874, Canadian inventors Henry Woodward and Matthew Evans filed a patent for an electric lamp with different-sized carbon rods held between electrodes in a glass cylinder filled with nitrogen. The pair tried, unsuccessfully, to commercialize their lamps but eventually sold their patent to Edison in 1879.
The success of Edison’s light bulb was followed by the founding of the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York in 1880. The company was started with financial contributions from J.P. Morgan and other wealthy investors of the time.
The company constructed the first electrical generating stations that would power electrical system and newly patented bulbs. The first generating station was opened in September 1882 on Pearl Street in lower Manhattan.