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From Incandescent to Compact Fluorescent - a Brief Story

Updated on June 19, 2015

Compact fluorescents - invention and history

Peter Cooper Hewitt invented the fluorescent lamp in the 1890s for use in photographic studios. It took a few different innovations to reach the modern compact fluorescent stage, though.

It wasn't until 1938 that George Inman created the first practical fluorescent lamp while working with General Electric, and then, in 1939, the first fluorescent bulb and fixture were displayed to the general public at the World's Fair in New York City. Fast forward to the 1970s, when Edward Hammer (awesome name), also working with GE, invented the spiral compact fluorescent lamp. Unfortunately, due to the cost of overhauling factories, GE decided to shelf this innovation for decades. Consequently, China developed a popular model in the 1990s that began to gain popularity.

Personal history wise, I've been using compact fluorescent bulbs myself for about 15 years now, and every single bulb in my home is compact fluorescent (finally threw out the last incandescent bulb that came with my house when I purchased it last year).

A simple (smart) alternative to incandescents

Talk about being a good citizen! I started using compact fluorescent light bulbs nearly a decade ago, and I've always tried to purchase them in bulk like this (great value!). These guys boast about all the energy they'll save you several dollars every year on your energy bill, and I'm all for that- don't get me wrong! But what really does it for me is this:

I don't have to change the damn light bulbs so frequently.

Don't get me wrong- the other benefits are important to me as well. After all, I'm a good person (no, really! Check out some of the work I do with fostering dogs). But really? I just hate changing light bulbs. I'm pretty lazy when it comes down to it.



Seriously, stop and think about how much of an inconvenience it is when an incandescent bulb burns out and you have to change it. First off, you had better make dang sure that the bulb itself has cooled off enough for you to be able to unscrew it. Second, when you're putting the new one in, if it's anything higher than 60 watts, you know full well you are going to burn your fingertips off like some kind of criminal mastermind who doesn't want to leave any prints behind at the scene of the crime. Well, you're going to be leaving something behind, all right- your seared fingertip flesh.

Yeouch! No thanks. The newer compact fluorescent bulbs have treated me extraordinarily well over the years, and I will certainly never live in a house again that uses incandescent bulbs, except maaaaaaybe if they're already there when I move in. Even then, I think it might be prudent to just change all of them out at once, right when you move in. After all, I eagerly awaited the very last of the incandescent light bulbs in my current house finally burning out, and there's just no looking back.

Thomas Edison, often credited (wrongly) with inventing the light bulb


Did you know?

Did you know that the incandescent light bulb was not invented by Thomas Edison? Although Edison improved greatly upon the light bulb, ultimately "perfecting" it in the 1880s.

Credit for the "first electric light" goes to Humphry Davy all the way back in 1800. Davy experimented with electricity,ultimately inventing an electric battery. Connecting carbon to his battery, he was able to make the carbon glow, thus producing "electric light."

Joseph Wilson Swan added the innovation of the carbon paper filament in the 1860s, and then in 1878, he first demonstrated his new "electric lamps" in England. Later, Charles Francis Brush (an American) made carbon arcs for the purpose of lighting a public square in Cleveland. The lights burned out fairly quickly, though.

Finally, in 1879, Thomas Alva Edison discovered that a carbon filament in an oxygen-free bulb lasted more than 40 hours. It was Edison's combination of superior vacuum tubing and a better carbon filament that allowed his bulb to last so long, and it wasn't long before he reached the 1500 hour mark! However, without the innovations of Nikola Tesla and his alternating current, it would not have been possible to "light the nation."


The story of how light bulbs have gotten to where they are now may not be especially riveting, but I do believe that it's one that's worth telling (and worth studying just a bit). The incandescent light bulb was a fantastic innovation, one that revolutionized the way the world stayed up at night to read, or did business, and countless other things, but the compact fluorescent has all but displaced a need for incredibly hot, inefficient "first effort" at the light bulb. History may misremember Thomas Edison as the man who invented the incandescent light bulb, but it probably doesn't even care who invented the far, far superior compact fluorescent.

To recap:

  • Save a few bucks
  • Save the environment
  • Save your fingertips

Leave the incandescent bulbs behind with all of the rest of the ridiculous antiquated technological relics from the past, and enjoy compact fluorescents in your home. Your fingers (and energy bill) will thank you!


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