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History of Light Bulb & its technology

by LightHub

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When we think about the inventor of the Light bulb that we use in our household and everyday life, the name Thomas Alva Edison comes to our mind right away. Rightly so It was Edison who patented the first commercially successful Light Bulb in 1879. But there are contradictions as to who was the first inventor of light bulbs because many historians profess there were other inventors of incandescent lamps until Edison’s light bulb.


Thomas Edison began deep research into developing an incandescent lamp in 1878. Several months after the patent was granted to Edison, he and his team discovered a carbonized bamboo filament that could last over 1200 hours. This discovery initiated the start of commercially manufactured Light Bulbs.

In the year 1880 Edison’s company set about marketing the brand new product. Spokespersons of the Edison Electric Light Company marketed the new incandescent lamps by viewing demonstrations at the Menlo Park lab and attending shows and expositions around the country. Although Thomas Edison wasn’t the first person to invent the light bulb, however, he did upgrade and improve the design and the performance of the light bulb and made it commercially viable and worthy of everyday use. These inventions made Edison a household name and attached his name with Light bulbs in history books.


Edison’s light bulb remained uniform for several years. In the year 1911, American Physicist, William D. Coolidge advanced the use of light bulbs by developing Tungsten filaments that lasted longer and brighter. Then in 1959 Halogen light bulbs were introduced. Halogen lights lasted longer and reduced 15 percent less consumption of energy.

In 1970s engineers started accommodating fluorescent light bulbs for household use. In 1993 the first bright blue LED was discovered. In the early 2000s LED lights were introduced in the market. Since the year 2008, the price of LED bulbs has gone down more than 85 percent, which makes them affordable for illuminating houses, workplaces, and public spaces.

Light Bulbs transformed home and work life. It expedited the urban development and the economy.

Some Notable Dates for light Bulb Technology

  • 1906 – The General Electric Company was the first to patent a method of making tungsten filaments for use in incandescent lightbulbs.
  • 1910 – William David Coolidge of General Electric improved the process of longest-lasting tungsten filaments manufacturing.
  • The 1920s – First frosted lightbulb is produced with adjustable power beam features for car headlamps and neon lighting.
  • The 1930s – The thirties saw the invention of little one-time flashbulbs for photography, and the fluorescent tanning lamp.
  • The 1940s – The first ‘soft light’ incandescent bulbs.
  • The 1950s – Quartz glass and halogen light bulb are produced
  • The 1980s – New low wattage metal halides are created
  • The 1990s – Long life bulbs and Compact Fluorescent bulbs make their debut.

How light bulb transformed: From Arc lamps to LEDs

The modern-day bulbs are not what people have been using traditionally. These light bulbs have gone under major changes to get to where it is now, that is, more efficient and environment-friendly. Let’s see how light bulbs technology is transforming over the past years and why people replaced the older once with the advancement of technology.

Arc lamps- The first artificial light source

If we follow the mechanism of an arc lamp, we will see that it worked around the idea of generating an electrical spark through the air with the help of two carbon rods. The gap between the rods must be of the right size to produce maximum light. If the gap is too large, the spark will flicker for a moment and then go out and if it is too small then the light produced would not be much.

The rods were made of carbon. The rod (carbon) is vaporized at high temperatures (3600C). This high temperature ionizes the carbon vapor and normal air due to which light is produced. Carbon is used because the carbon vapor is highly luminous. An exchange of electron takes place between the ions of air and the carbon vapor and the electric current passes from one electrode to the other.

But the arc lamps had certain disadvantages and therefore it was replaced later –

  • The carbon rods had to be replaced after some time which required a person to do this job.
  • It produced harmful UV rays.
  • Created a constant buzzing sound if the light was produced.
  • The longest carbon rods lasted about only 75 hours.
  • It emitted carbon monoxide gas which is very harmful.

Incandescent Bulbs light the way

Thomas A. Edison received a patent for the incandescent light bulb in 1879. Although many conspiracy theories are suggesting that Nikola Tesla invented the light bulb. In 1835, there was the first sign of constant electric light and after that, for 40 years scientists worked to develop what today we know as the incandescent light bulb.

The emission of light in an incandescent bulb is due to the heating of filament and contains an inert gas that helps to emit the light better. These filaments made from a rare metal which is called tungsten. These types of bulbs are still present in the shops. This makes the light bulb more luminous, consumes less energy and the cost of making gets lower down.

Then came a filament made of a rare metal called Tungsten. This made the light bulbs more luminous, consumed less energy and the cost of making was lowered down.

Halogen light bulbs- Improving the filament

Unlike the regular incandescent light bulb used earlier, a halogen (such as iodine or bromine) is used in the bulb. This improves the life of the Tungsten filament also, the illumination is better as the halogens have atoms distributed so the light produced covers a better distance.

A huge advantage of using halogens instead of inert gas is that when tungsten glows, it forms a residue that is wasted in inert gas. Using halogens helps as the tungsten is redeposited to the filament after it cools down. This increases the life of the filament as it does not break down.

CFLs – The Compact Florescent Lights

The Compact Florescent Lights, commonly known as CFLs, offer a considerable increase in the illumination as compared to Halogens Light bulbs and Incandescent Light Bulbs. Also, it takes 25% less energy.

The oil crisis of 1973 forced scientists to develop a lighting solution that consumes less energy. In 1976, Edward Hammer found a way to bend the fluorescent tubes that created the first CFL.

In a CFL, the current is passed through a tube that is bent and it contains Argon and a small amount of mercury vapor as well. The inside of the fluorescent tube is coated with phosphor. When an electric current is passed through the gasses, invisible ultraviolet light is produced which further excites the phosphor which emits the visible white light.

With the coming of CFLs, also came the idea of colored lighting. The fluorescent tubes that were used in the past were now made of different colors emitting the same white light but, the light that came out of the tube was of different color due to the coloring of the tube.

Light Emitting Diodes- The future is here

Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) uses semiconductors (generally Gallium Arsenide) to emit light. LEDs are tiny bulbs that emit light in a single direction. By combining many tiny bulbs you can increase the intensity of an LED bulb.
LEDs don’t have a filament that gets hot and breaks after a certain amount of time; instead, they are illuminated by the movement of semiconductor electrons.

Semiconductors are a gem of the periodic table. They work as an insulator in the normal state but when they get excited, they work as a conductor.

At last, we have to say, one may not consider the light bulb as the single most important invention. But the Invention of the light bulb surely revolutionized the world in a way that cannot be denied. It is our round the clock companion. It has accelerated urbanization beyond measures. The invention of light bulbs has opened many more doors for improvement of running a household and the workplace.

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