Who Really Invented The Electric Light?

Who Really Invented The Electric Light?


As the nights get longer and darker, we rely on a mix of practical and novel lights to help us work through the dimmer days and darker evenings.

When it comes to the electric light bulb, the first name that comes to mind is Thomas Edison, famous late 19th-century inventor of film cameras, early record players and overhead power lines.

He is an important figure, but not the person who invented the electric light. In fact, Robert Friedel and Paul Israel, two historians of the era, name 22 inventors who came up with early lightbulbs before Edison.

Here is the story of these inventors who tirelessly worked to get closer and closer to a working light bulb.


From Precedent To Product

Light bulbs until the rise of energy-saving and LED bulbs were based on the concept of incandescence, which is where a wire is heated up so much that it glows.

Original demonstrations of this date back well over a century before Edison’s bulb, with Ebenezer Kinnersley showing the effects of heating a wire.

The first experiment that provided the precedent for the dozens of other inventors was Humphry Davy in 1802. He used a huge battery to superheat a strip of platinum to make it glow. Platinum has a very high melting point and thus could take the electrical current better.

Whilst it was not usable as a reading light and didn’t last terribly long, for 75 years experimenters used the same principle with their own bulb designs.

After so many attempts and claims, Joseph Swan and Thomas Edison would work initially independently on carbon filament light bulbs but eventually would merge their work in the late 19th century after a series of lawsuits.