ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

History of Light Bulbs for Home Lighting

Updated on August 17, 2014
Original Edison incandescent bulb, circa 1890
Original Edison incandescent bulb, circa 1890


The lightbulb is a simple yet very important invention found in the vast majority of households in the world today. Without it we would probably be still living in the dark ages reading our books by a candlelight or kerosene lantern. Our streets would probably still be lit with gas lights in the same way it was done at the beginning of the 20th century. Thanks for the determination of a prolific inventor by the name of Thomas Edison we now have lights in just about everything we come in contact with everyday. That first light bulb was a lot different from the ones we have today.

Birth of the Lightbulb, the Incandescent Lightbulb

Before the beginning of the twentieth century there were several types of light emitting devices available for lighting the night but they were too dangerous or used too much electricity to be useful for indoor lighting. These lights were the gas lamps, oil lamps and the arc lamps that were in existence at the time. Thomas Edison and other inventors at the time knew that an indoor light had to be small but at the same time be bright.

Edison came up with the idea of passing an electric current through a thin high resistant wire or filament until it got hot enough to glow. At the same time, an Englishman named Sir Joseph Swan also had the same idea when Edison started working on the light bulbs. Edison was not the first to invent light bulbs but he was the first to receive a patent for the incandescent bulb. Initially, the problem during the development of the incandescant bulb was the short life of the filament. It only glow for several hours until it eventually melted due to the air molecules trapped in the bulb and the low melting point of the material used for the filament.

Parts of an incandescent bulb

1. Outline of glass bulb  2. Low pressure inert gas 3. Tungsten filament   4. Contact wire   5. Contact wire   6. Support wire 7. Stem       8. Contact wire 9. Cap (Sleeve) 10. Insulation 11. Electrical contact
1. Outline of glass bulb 2. Low pressure inert gas 3. Tungsten filament 4. Contact wire 5. Contact wire 6. Support wire 7. Stem 8. Contact wire 9. Cap (Sleeve) 10. Insulation 11. Electrical contact

After several experiments Edison improved the life of the filament by removing most of the air from within the bulb to create a vacuum in the bulb and using filaments with higher melting points. The filament had to reach a temperature around 2000 deg Fahrenheit to produce bright light. He used plant material, specifically carbonized filaments from various plants, for his earlier experiments with the development of the light bulbs. During the course of his experiments he wanted to change the material to tungsten metal since it had a much higher melting point than the carbonized plant filaments but he was unable to use it since he did not have the proper tools to work with it.

In the end he eventually settled on using platinum despite the fact that tungsten had a melting temperature almost twice as high as platinum. However, tungsten would become the preferred material for many years for the incandescent light bulb and an inert gas such as argon would be used to fill the bulb to keep the tungsten metal from vaporizing inside the bulb thus coating the inside of the bulb. Edison received a patent for his invention of the incandescent bulb in 1880.

Halogen light in the shape of the original incandescent bulb
Halogen light in the shape of the original incandescent bulb
Another design of the halogen light
Another design of the halogen light

Halogen Light, an Improved Incandescent Lightbulb

Halogen light were developed and patented in 1882 almost immediately after Thomas Edison received a patent for his invention of the incandescent lights. The first halogen was essentially a incandescent bulb of quartz and filled with chlorine gas under high pressure. This kept the tungsten atoms from coating the glass through a chemical reaction called the halogen cycle. The evaporated tungsten would react with the chlorine gas to form a halide salt (any halogen gas such as chlorine combined chemically with a metal). Table salt is a halide salt. This salt would eventually move around until it reach the hot tungsten filament and the chlorine atom and the tungsten atom would disassociate and the tungsten atom would be deposited on the hot filament. This process increased the life of the bulb and kept the bulb clear. Today’s halogen lights are smaller and are filled with iodine instead of chlorine. They are much hotter than regular incandescent bulbs because their size and are often covered with a UV absorbing shield to block the ultraviolet light generated by them.

The original fluorescent light design for office and commercial uses
The original fluorescent light design for office and commercial uses
Typical compact fluorescent light (CFL) designs home lighting
Typical compact fluorescent light (CFL) designs home lighting

Fluorescent Light, a More Energy Efficient Lightbulb

The incandescent light bulb would become the primary way of lighting homes for more than 100 years but there was one problem while using them. Most of the electricity needed to produce the light was wasted as heat. About 90% of electricity is converted to infrared light (heat) and the remaining 10% of the electricity is converted to visible, yellow light. During usage these lights became very hot. Obviously, the next step was to produce a light source where electricity would be used more efficiently.

Thomas Edison threw his hat back into the illumination picture again with the invention of the fluorescent lamp in 1896. But he did not pursue developing it any further despite the fact he received a patent for it in 1907. One of his former employee, Daniel McFarlan Moore who also developed neon lamps around 1917 at General Electric, continued to work with the development of the fluorescent lamp and ultimately brought it commercial success by improving the life of the lamp. The biggest problem with fluorescent lamps was that they were much more complicated technically than the incandescent lights. These lights required a higher voltage than incandescent bulbs to excite the electrons in the gas molecules to release a photon to excite the fluorescing coating on the glass. Also these lights had more pressure in them than the incandescent bulbs.

Fluorescent lamps work on the principle of photon emission. An electron is emitted from the heated electrode by the process of thermionic emission. Next the released electron would collide with an electron in the mercury atom and transfer it energy to it thus pushing the electron in the mercury atom into a higher orbit around the nucleus of the mercury atom. Afterward, the electron would fall back to a lower orbit while at the same time losing that energy as an ultraviolet light photon. Finally, this light photon collides with the electrons in the phosphors coated on the interior of the glass. This last collision causes an electron in the phosphor to move to a higher orbital level and later falls back to the lower orbital level releasing its energy as visible white light. This is the reason fluorescent lights are coated because we cannot see ultraviolet light. However, fluorescent lights did have one draw back in the early days. They emitted a bluish-green light because there were a lot less red light emitted from these lights compared to today’s newer fluorescent lights. This is why anything red seen under some fluorescent lights appear dull red in color. Today the color spectrum of the fluorescent lights are controlled by varying the mixture of the phosphor coating.

How a compact fluorescent light produces light
How a compact fluorescent light produces light

Size was another problem with fluorescent lights initially but now they comes in many shapes and sizes. They are now made in the original shape and size of the old incandescent lights. Despite the fact that fluorescent lights use electricity more efficiently than incandescent bulbs they had a few drawbacks as well.

For starters, the lamps contain a small amount of mercury and if they are broken would contaminate the environment with mercury droplets. Secondly, these lamps emitted ultraviolet light which could affect certain colors of paint. Thirdly, they cause radio interference and if they are switched on and off frequently the life of the lamps were shorten. Finally, there was flicker problem. Some individuals were very sensitive to this problem and caused headaches

Light-emitting Diodes (LEDs), Lighting without the Heat

The final stage in the evolution of the light bulb made its appearance on the lighting scene in 1961 as infrared LEDs from the work of co-inventors Robert Biard and Gary Pittman while working at Texas Instruments. Initially, they were used mostly in electronic devices as small indicator lights and the color of the light emitted was generally red. It turn out that these lights were incredibly energy efficient and because of this characteristic they are now becoming more popular in today’s home lighting and now emits light in the visible, ultraviolet and infrared range.

How light is produced in a LED light
How light is produced in a LED light
A typical LED light for home interior lighting
A typical LED light for home interior lighting
More LED light designs for home interior lighting
More LED light designs for home interior lighting

A electroluminescent lamp or “high field electroluminescent” lamp works on the principle of electroluminescence. In simple terms electroluminescence is the direct conversion of electrical energy into visible light without the generation of heat. All other methods of producing light from electrical energy, such as the incandescent light mentioned earlier, heat is generated in the process, hence the name luminescence. There are three other ways light can be produced without heat. Electroluminescence is produced when an electric current is passed through a semiconductor with tiny holes. As these excited electrons move through the semiconductor some of these electrons pass over these holes as free electrons and emit their extra energy as they return to their ground state or lower energy level as light particles or photons.

It would be a while before electroluminescent lamps become a commercially viable product. This did not happened until the1980s even though they were already in use in many electronic devices since the 1960s. Today many of the new energy efficient light bulbs on the market use this process of producing lighting in our homes. They are more expensive then the incandescent light bulbs but they last much longer. To make these lights practical for home lighting several LEDs are put in a bulb made in the shape of the original incandescent lamps. As you can see, some things will never change and it look like this shape will be around for while as the old, originally incandescent lamps slowly get replaced by the newer LEDs lamps.

© 2013 Melvin Porter


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • melpor profile imageAUTHOR

      Melvin Porter 

      13 months ago from New Jersey, USA

      Thanks for reading my articles, Mr. Muralkrisha.

    • hmkrishna profile image

      Halemane Muralikrishna 

      14 months ago from South India

      Dear Porter, it was an exhaustive and informative article gave me a lot of knowledge.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Canadian inventors Henry Woodward and Mathew Evans file a patent for an incandescent lightbulb that consists of carbon rods in a nitrogen-filled glass cylinder. They sell the patent to some guy named Thomas Edison in 1879

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thanks Dilipchandra12. Also thanks for by stopping by to read my hub and I am glad you enjoyed reading it.

    • dilipchandra12 profile image

      Dilip Chandra 

      7 years ago from India

      This is an excellent informative and useful hub. You have very written the same. Great work!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)