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A history of lighting and light bulbs

In the beginning of time, the only sources of light were the sun in the day and the moon in the night, with exceptions to times of cloud coverage and the new moon phases each month. Possibly by accident, the first major discovery in terms of controllable light was the use of fire, which brought about the invention of torches, the first portable lamps. As time progressed, more sources of controllable light were developed with the use of grease, fiber wicks, and the fats of animals and vegetables. These items were used as fuel inside stones, rocks, shells, and other natural materials to form lamps for the purpose of illuminating the inside of dwellings. Fireflies were captured and contained to create lighting. Oils from fish, olive, and plants replaced the fats as fuel, and eventually, gas replaced the oils. Glass, pottery and then metal lamps were created. Places of worship and the wealthy began to use candles made from beeswax.

Sir Isaac Newton was one of the first well known researchers into the study of optics and light in the late 1600’s. He studied the refraction of light and using a prism, showed how light from the sun, or white light (which today can be supplied also by fluorescent and electric light sources), can be broken into a spectrum of colors. Also, with use of a second prism, the same spectrum of colors could be brought back together as white light again. Through this research, he also built the first telescope.

The next major step in the history of lighting began with the experimentation by Benjamin Franklin in the 1700’s with electricity. His research and the work of many scientists thereafter led to many milestones in lighting as we know it today. In the early 1800’s, the first electric carbon lamp was invented in England by Sir Humphrey Davvy. Half a century later in France, A.E. Becquerel experimented with fluorescent lamps. This led to the creation of neon lamps and signs in the early 1900’s and fluorescent lights.

Twenty years after Becquerel’s work with fluorescents, both Sir Joseph Swann and Thomas Edison created electric incandescent lamps and lighting. This history is debated, as credit for the invention of the first light bulb went to two men, Henry Woodward and Matthew Evan, who patented the light bulb in Canada. However, they lacked the financial resources to commercialize their invention, so Edison bought the rights to their patent instead. Edison went on to incorporate the first Electric Light Company in 1878 and patent a distribution system in 1880 for electricity. He also made another of the greatest contributions to electric light today by conducting thousands of experiments into the best material for the filament, concluding that although platinum was effective, cotton was most cost effective. In the early 1900’s, a metal-coating for the carbon filament was created to avoid having the insides of bulbs turn black. Three years later, tungsten filaments were used, something which Edison would have been able to discover himself with the right machinery.

Further enhancements to the light bulb included frosted bulbs and power beam bulbs for car headlamps in the twenties, photography flashbulbs and fluorescent tanning lamps in the thirties, soft light incandescent bulbs in the forties, the halogen light bulb in the fifties, brighter bulbs in the sixties, low wattage bulbs in the eighties, and the Dutch invention of the 60,000+ hour light bulb in the nineties. Today, the goal is to create the most environmentally friendly light bulb possible to not only help the environment, but also to help the wallet in electricity savings. The replacement of one regular light bulb with an eco-friendly light bulb can result in $50 worth of electricity savings.
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