History of the Light Bulb

  • First electric lamp

    First electric lamp
    Humphrey Davy invents the 'electric arc lamp', which was the first electric lamp. It used a carbon filament, but had a very short life and produced way too much light, equivalent to 1000 candles! However, these were later modified and used as street lamps. Davy is also known for being the first to discover incandescence in a platinum wire. Image retrieved from
  • First light bulb

    James Bowman Lindsay was the first person to contain an electrical charge inside of a glass bulb. Some have credited him with inventing the incandescent bulb.
  • First efficient light bulb

    Warren de la Rue creates the first efficient light bulb, however the high cost of the platinum filament he used prevented it from becoming a commercial success.
  • Carbonised paper filaments

    Sir Joseph Swan discovers that carbonised paper filaments can be used! This was a major improvement because Swan's light bulb lasted for several hours, compared to the minutes others were getting.
  • The Geissler Tube

    The Geissler Tube
    Heinrich Geissler, a glassblower, created a special tube to use with electricity. It could contain an electric charge, and paved the way for neon and other types of electrical-based lighting. Image retrieved from
  • Carbon filament

    Henry Woodward and Matthew Evans develop an electric lamp using carbon filaments of different sizes, but they were not efficient.
  • The first commercially successful light bulb

    The first commercially successful light bulb
    Thomas Alva Edison invents the first commercially successful light bulb, with affordable costs! However this was not purely his idea as he bought part of the design from Woodward & Evans. Edison contributed a lot to incandescent bulbs, creating a standard screw, finding full vacuum, and also testing new filaments. Image retrieved from
  • The first electric company

    The first electric company
    The first electric company is opened - Edison's Electric Illuminating Company of New York. Edison later opened several other electrical companies, including Ediswan, a partnering between him and Swan, the Edison Sault Electrical Company, and the Ohio Edison Electric Installation Company.
  • The Moore Tube

    The Moore Tube
    Daniel McFarlan Moore achieved success developing the first predecessor to the fluorescent light called the Moore Tube. It used CO2 and Nitrogen to make a pink and white light. It was reliable, however it was short lived because of competition from the Mercury vapour tube. Image retrieved from
  • Precursor to the fluorescent lamp

    Peter Cooper Hewitt discovered that passing an electric current through Mercury vapour created a blue-green light. However, because of the colour it was not suited to practical use.
  • Tantalum filament

    Tantalum filament
    Werner von Bolton discovered that using a Tantalum filament increased the durability, efficiency and bulb life. The age of metallic filaments had begun! Image retrieved from
  • Plant filament treatment

    Willis P. Whitney develops a treatment for plant-based filaments to prevent blackening.
  • Carbon to Tungsten

    Around this time, bulbs with Tungsten filaments began to appear on the market. (Even though Edison had known from the start that Tungsten would make an excellent filament, the technology required to shape into fine wire was not available at the time.)
  • Eletctroluminescence!

    H.J. Round discovered electroluminescence when using silicon carbide and a cats whisker. Oleg Losev also discovered the phenomenon the same year. It was the beginning of the journey to LEDs.
  • Tungsten becomes ductile (yay!)

    William D. Coolidge revolutionizes incandescent lighting by figuring out how to make Tungsten ductile, therefore making it possible to make Tungsten into a wire. This improvement makes the light bulb more durable, longer lasting, easily coiled, and produce more light.
  • Edison Screw becomes universal

    The Edison Screw, the socket that Edison developed, becomes universal - the standard socket for bulbs all around the world.
  • Double the efficiency!

    Irving Langmuir discovered that filling an incandescent bulb with an inert gas such as nitrogen, instead of vacuuming out all the gas, doubled the efficiency.
  • The first Neon light

    The first Neon light
    Georges Claude invented the modern neon lamp. It is considered a cold cathode fluorescent lamp. Image retrieved from
  • More light!

    More light!
    Junichi Miura develops the double coil filament - which is literally what its name is, a coil that is coiled. It greatly improved luminescence and helped efficiency.
  • Neon + Phosphor = Fluorescent!

    From the late 1920s to early 1930s, European researchers conducted many experiments with neon tubes coated with phosphors. This sparked fluorescent lamp research in the U.S.
  • First Fluorescent light

    George Inman, along with Richard Thayer, Eugene Lemmers, and Willard A. Roberts develop the first true fluorescent lamp. Their lamp had real white phosphors and was stable and reliable. As a result their design has not changed much in 78 years.
  • Incandescents to Fluorescents

    Around this time, the majority of light bulbs used changed from incandescent to fluorescent, a change that was brought about by the need for efficient lighting during WWII.
  • The first LED

    James R. Biard and Gary Pittman develop the Infrared LED! This was the first modern LED. It was discovered by accident. (However, as it is infrared, and infrared is invisible, it is not a well known discovery.)
  • First LED

    First LED
    Nick Holonyak Jr. invents the first LED (light-emitting diode) by discovering the red diode. Soon after, yellow and green diodes are discovered.
  • Yellow and bright red LEDs!

    M. George Craford creates the first yellow LED at Monsanto using GaAsP. He also develops a brighter red LED.
  • CFLs!

    Edward Hammer, whilst working for General Electric, figures out how to bend the fluorescent lamp into a spiral shape, creating the first CFL (compact fluorescent light). Photo retrieved from
  • Frosted etched incandescent bulbs

    Frosted etched incandescent bulbs
    Developed by Marvin Pipkin, this discovery diffused the light, reducing glare whilst losing only 3-5% of the light. Pipkin later also developed a silica coating, an even better way to diffuse light.
    Image retrieved from
  • LEDs appear in consumer products

    It was around this time that LEDs first began to appear in consumer products, as small things such as calculator displays and indicator lights.
  • Bright blue LEDs

    Shuji Nakamura develops the world's first bright blue LED using GaN (Gallium nitride). It wouldn't be until the 1990s that the blue LED would become cheap enough for commercial production. Blue LEDs are the brightest out of all LEDs. Leading from this discovery, white LEDs were discovered a short time later.
  • CFLs hit the market

    When CFLs were first available for consumers, they were very expensive: $25-$35 for each one!
  • First residential fluorescents hit the market!

    LED bulbs become available for consumers.