Since the Rotary theme this year is "LIGHT UP ROTARY" I thought it would be fun to explore the topic of lights.

This first program has to do with the very famous invention of the Thomas Edison Light Bulb and how that has progressed.

The modern world is an electrified world. The light bulb, in particular profoundly changed human existence by illuminating the night and making it hospitable to a wide range of human activity. The electric light, one of the everyday conveniences that most affects our lives was invented in 1879 by Thomas Alva Edison.

Prior to that time, gas lighting was a well established industry. The gas infrastructure was in place, franchises had been granted, and manufacturing facilities for both gas and equipment were in profitable operation. Perhaps as important, people had grown accustomed to the idea of lighting with gas.

The History of the Lightbulb: 5:20 min:




The incandescent light bulb (archaically known as the electric lamp) uses a glowing wire filament heated to white-hot by electrical resistance, to generate light (a process known as thermal radiation or incandescence). The bulb is the glass enclosure which keeps the filament in a vacuum or low-pressure noble gas, or a halogen gas in the case of quartz-halogen lamps in order to prevent oxidation of the filament at high temperatures.

Consequences of Edison's LAMP:

Over the course of the next half century two especially significant social effects became clear. We gained control over light in homes and offices, independent of the time of day. And the electric light brought networks of wires into homes and offices, making it relatively easy to add appliances and other machines. As reflected by FDR's statement, low cost lighting and nationwide electrification became fundamental parts of twentieth century America.

Niagara Falls power house

The world's first large-scale central generating station opened at Niagara Falls in 1895, with some of its output transmitted twenty miles away to Buffalo. It employed two-phase AC techniques invented by Nikola Tesla and was thus more efficient than previous alternating current systems.

The electric lamp gave people complete control over lighting inside their homes and work places at the click of a switch. By the eve of World War II this was largely true, with the help of the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), even in rural areas. 

As more people turned to electricity for light, prices of both lamps and electricity fell. Older forms of lighting, such as candles and oil lamps, became used only for special occasions or emergencies like power "black-outs."

The consequence was to interrupt the normal, biological rhythms of life and to alter our schedules for work and leisure. Industrial plants could operate in shifts around-the-clock, for example, and the concept of "the city that never sleeps" became a reality.

Use of the new technology effected building architecture as daylight became only a supplemental source of light. Electricity for lights, elevators, and pumps allowed architects to design "skyscrapers" of unprecedented height. The "windowless building" was also an architectural design option by the 1930s.

Rambusch fixture

The availability of more powerful light bulbs made controlling the light they emitted a necessity. Fixture makers combined both art and science in electrical luminaires that provided optical control and fashionable design. A Danish immigrant, Frode Rambusch, started a business in New York in the 1890s designing murals and stained glass windows for public buildings. He soon expanded activities to make special lighting fixtures, incorporating artificial light into the architecture. To the left is a Rambusch fixture designed in 1939 for church illumination.

Decorative and novelty lights quickly found acceptance. Edison made small lapel lights which he gave to friends. The first Christmas tree known to use electric lights was trimmed in the home of Edison Company vice president Edward Johnson in 1882. Conrad Hubert and Joshua Cohen (founders of Eveready Battery and Lionel Trains, respectively) also produced miniature decorative lamps, but then put the lamps to practical use in 1898 with the hand-held flashlight.

The economic effect of electric lighting went far beyond increasing the workday. Profits generated by the electric lamp, in effect, paid for a network of generators and wires. This infrastructure then became available for a whole new class of inventions: appliances and equipment that by the 1930s had transformed the home and the workplace.

Because of its poor efficiency and yellowish color, incandescent light bulbs are gradually being replaced in many applications by fluorescent lights, high-intensity discharge lamps, LEDs, and other devices.

Different types of lightbulbs


Ironically today still over 1 billion people in the world still do not have access to electricity or safe lights.


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