Geek Trivia

Who Invented the Light Bulb?

Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Ben Franklin
Joseph Swan
The Very First U.S. Dollar Bill Featured A Portrait Of?

Answer: Humphrey Davy

Thomas Edison, the renowned and prolific American inventor, sports a laundry list of accomplishments including the invention of all manner of gadgets. What’s interesting about the list, however, is that a significant number of things we attribute to Edison were simply refined by him in some fashion–like the humble light bulb.

Edison didn’t invent electrical lighting or even the light bulb. He did, in fact, experiment widely with filaments and light bulb construction to help produce one of the first economically viable light bulbs. He also played a big role in the early development of power grids and power distribution. The actual invention of the light bulb is an accolade reserved for Sir Humphry Davy.

In 1806 Humphry Davy gave a the first demonstration of a light bulb. The device, what we now refer to as an arc lamp, arcs huge amounts of electricity between two charcoal rods. The illumination was extremely bright and impractical for residential application. The original demonstration was more a proof of concept demonstration than anything else as the arc lamp quickly drained the battery it was attached to. With the advent of more advanced electrical delivery systems (such as electrical grids and on-location generators) the arc lamp became more practical, albeit with limited application. The lamps were used for light houses and for public areas in need of bright illumination.

Various experimenters attempted to tame Davy’s brilliant arc lamps into something more practical for small-scale use (such as in a home or business) but with limited success. Early attempts to create filaments were unsuccessful as the filament would eventually burn up thanks to the oxygen rich environment around it. Throughout the 19th century experiments were conducted with different filaments but it wasn’t until inventors, starting with Frederick DeMolelyns, began pumping the air out and creating vacuum-chambered light bulbs that the filaments stood a chance.

Near the end of the 19th century, Edison turned his attention to the problem of electric illumination and, after much experimentation and studying of failed prior light bulb designs, began using strands of carbonized bamboo as a filament. His early light bulbs has a light span of only 600 hours, but that was long enough to catch the attention and interest of the public. Edison light bulbs were installed at prominent locations around New York City such as the downtown Macy’s store; it was the first store in the world to be illuminated by electric light.