Thomas Edison, arguably the greatest inventor of our time.
It’s a name that is known around the world, a name that lends itself to many instruments and machines that many of us will have used in our lives at one time or another. Overall Edison created a whopping 1093 inventions including the telephone and alkaline batteries, whilst we’d happily talk about each and every one of these; we’re here to talk about his most famous invention of all, the incandescent light bulb.
But first, here’s a little bit about the main man. Thomas Alva Edison was born in Milan in Ohio on 11th February 1847. He lived there until 1854 when his family moved to Port Huron in Michigan. Growing up in Michigan, Al as he was known spent his youth either buried in a book or testing out Chemistry experiments in the basement of the family home. At the age of 12 Edison started his first job operating a news stand on the Grand Trunk Rail road line, running from Port Huron to Detroit. It was at this time that Edison showed his true entrepreneurial abilities by producing his own newspaper called the Grand Trunk Herald and it was a hit with passengers. By 1862 Edison had learned how to use a rail road telegraph, this transpired into a career as a telegraph operator and thus gaining a wider knowledge of electrical science and technology. In 1869 Edison ventured into the world of invention.
By the mid 1870’s Edison had the reputation of a first class inventor, in 1976 he moved to Menlo Park in New Jersey and founded the now famous ‘Invention Factory’. It was in 1878 when Edison first decided to develop the invention of the incandescent bulb, his aim was to replace gaslight and candles in the home and workplace. The original invention came from English Scientist named Sir Humphrey Davis who discovered that pumping electricity through a carbon arc would produce light, in 1860 Sir Joseph Swan developed this further by encasing the carbon arc in a glass container. However, the light only burnt for minutes before burning out.
Edison further developed this by using carbon paper filament that could burn for 40 hours. The thin strip of paper was attached to wires and enclosed in a vacuum; he would still place this filament in an oxygen less container (bulb) as did Swan. Edison developed the bulb design based on the 1875 patent he purchased from inventors Henry Woodward and Matthew Evans.
When electricity was sent through the filament it caused a heat reaction which ultimately lit up the filament, there was one slight problem though; the heat would eventually burn out the paper filament. It wasn’t until 1897 when Lewis H Latimer, an employee of Edison’s ‘Invention Factory’ found that carbonised cotton thread could glow a lot longer before burning out. Application for design patent was applied for on 4th November 1879 and was passed on 27th January 1880. Patent number 223,898 was given to Edison’s electric lamp.
“Where would we be without him?”