Who Invented the Lightbulb: Exploring Its Origin and Impact

The lightbulb's history features multiple inventors, notably Humphry Davy, Joseph Swan, and Thomas Edison, each advancing early electric light technology.

The Origins of the Lightbulb

Early Experiments and Inventors

The history of the lightbulb dates back to the early 19th century, with various inventors and scientists working on experiments for electric light.

One of the earliest pioneers was Sir Humphry Davy, who invented the arc lamp around 1802 using platinum wires connected to a voltaic pile, an early form of a battery invented by Alessandro Volta1.

Another noteworthy inventor was Warren de la Rue, who in the 1840s experimented with platinum-coated coil filaments in evacuated glass tubes2.

In 1854, Scottish inventor James Bowman Lindsay demonstrated his constant electric light, paving the way for future inventors3.

Joseph Swan vs. Thomas Edison

English physicist Joseph Swan made significant strides in the development of the incandescent light bulb.

In fact, his house in Gateshead, England, was the first in the world to have working light bulbs installed4.

Swan’s practical and longer-lasting electric lightbulb lasted for 13.5 hours, using a carbon fiber filament derived from cotton5.

Thomas Edison is often credited with inventing the lightbulb, but his version was an improvement on Swan’s design.

Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory, also known as his “invention factory,” developed a carbon filament that burned for up to 1,200 hours6.

Edison patented his incandescent light bulb in 1879-1880, with his design becoming the widely-accepted and commercialized version.

While the true inventor is a subject of debate, the advancements in lightbulb technology by these early scientists and inventors have undeniably changed the world and shaped modern electricity.

The Development of Edison’s Lightbulb

Edison's workshop: cluttered with tools, wires, and experiments.</p><p>A dimly lit bulb flickers, casting shadows as Edison tinkers with his invention

Improvements in Filament and Bulb Design

The development of Edison’s incandescent light bulb began with his focus on improving the filament.

Although some inventors, like Alessandro Volta, had experimented with electric light before Edison, the filaments they used were not efficient and usually burned out quickly.

Edison initially experimented with carbon filaments, trying different materials to find one with higher resistance and longer-lasting quality.

His search led him to use carbonized bamboo as a filament.

The carbonized bamboo filaments had a longer lifespan than other materials Edison tested, due in part to their high resistance.

Further experimentation revealed that creating a vacuum inside the glass bulb solved the problem of blackening on the inside of the bulb due to contact with the air.

This was achieved by using the Sprengel air pump, a vacuum pump that improved upon previous vacuum tube technology.

Patents and the Growth of General Electric

Thomas Edison didn’t only focus on the science behind the lightbulb; his business acumen led to the development of patents to protect his inventions.

Edison received his first patent for the incandescent light bulb in 1879, followed by another patent in 1880.

This marked the growth of both Edison Electric Light Company, which was eventually absorbed into General Electric, and the Edison brand.

It’s important to note that Edison didn’t work alone; many engineers and scientists contributed to the development of the lightbulb at his Menlo Park and West Orange laboratories in New Jersey.

As Edison continued to improve the design of the lightbulb, he eventually replaced the carbon filaments with tungsten ones.

Tungsten filaments were more efficient and had a much higher melting point than carbon, which increased the bulb’s longevity.

The introduction of nitrogen into the bulbs replaced the need for a vacuum, creating an inert gas environment that allowed the tungsten filament to function at high temperatures without rapid deterioration.

Throughout the development of his lightbulb, Edison’s innovative spirit manifested itself in many other inventions, including the phonograph and the kinetoscope.

These inventions contributed to Edison’s reputation as the “Wizard of Menlo Park” and solidified his place in history as a prolific inventor and businessman.

Edison’s patents and the growth of General Electric led to legal battles with rival inventors and companies, such as British patent infringement cases and the widespread production of the incandescent light bulb.

This battle drove Edison and his team to continue improving their designs and increasing the efficiency, economy, and longevity of their bulbs.

In the end, Edison’s lightbulb not only revolutionized the way people live but also forever changed the landscape of business and innovation.


  1. The History of the Light Bulb | Department of Energy

  2. Who Invented the lightbulb? | Live Science

  3. Who Invented the Light Bulb? It Wasn’t Just Edison

  4. The History Of The Lightbulb And Who Really Invented It

  5. Who Invented the Lightbulb? – ThoughtCo

  6. The History of the Light Bulb | Department of Energy