Industry Trends

Light Bulbs Throughout the Years

4 min read

Since the beginning of time, there has been a need for light. As time progresses, we continue to find new solutions and innovations for these needs. Starting from the first version of the light bulb to today’s LED bulb, let’s dive into the history of lighting.

History of the Light Bulb

Before the lightbulb was created, the main method of light was a candle or fire of some sort for more than 5,000 years. Starting around the mid-1980s is when candles started to be used as decorative items rather than as a source of light. 

By 1806, the first lightbulb was invented by Humphry Davy. His invention specifically is the first ever incandescent light. Then, in 1835, James Lindsay invented a longer lasting version of the incandescent light. Technically, Thomas Edison was not the first inventor of the light bulb. But Edison’s innovations were all built on the existing research from Davy and Lindsay. 

Edison first developed the high-resistant cotton filament while he was working for a company called Edison Electric Light Company. Edison was the person to patent his design in 1879 for carbon filament. The patent was finally approved in 1880. He then used the vacuum pump technology from the Sprengel air pump combined with the filament to create a light in a glass bulb. This invention burned for over 14 hours. 

first light bulb invented with a high-resistant cotton filament inside

The first light bulb was patented by Edison in 1879.
Source: Smithsonian 

Several months after the patent was granted, Edison and his team discovered bamboo filament. With a carbonized bamboo filament, this light could last over 1200 hours. After this discovery was made, Edison’s company started manufacturing light bulbs. However, 90% of the electricity for incandescents goes towards producing heat, not light. A solution had to be found for this. 

Compact Fluorescent Lights

The next light bulb that came was the compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). These bulbs are intended to be an affordable alternative to the incandescent lights. In the 19th century, German inventors Henrich Geissler and Julius Plucker invented the Geissler tube by looking for a way to improve lighting efficiency. This tube produced light similar to modern neon lighting. Peter Cooper Hewitt is the inventor of a fluorescent light that was much more efficient than the incandescent light bulbs but was not used as much because of its blue-green color. 

In the 1920s and 1930s, American lighting companies started looking into phosphors. These are materials that can take in UV light and turn it into white light that’s useful. This got other lighting companies in the U.S. interested in doing research too. By the late 1930s, these American lighting companies showed off the technology at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, which was three times more efficient at making light than old-style light bulbs. This technology was also shared with the U.S. Navy to help make sure war factories had good lighting.

An oil crisis in 1973 caused an energy shortage. This prompted researchers from the company Sylvania to come up with a solution on how to save more energy. They attempted to take the ballasts and miniaturize them by tucking them into bulbs. However, this attempt failed because the light was unable to be produced. 

In 1976, General Electric’s Edward Hammer bent these lighting tubes into a spiral. This then created the invention of the compact fluorescent light bulb that was practical for widespread use. However, this production was going to be too expensive to produce. Since the 1990s, several improvements helped reduce the performance, price, and efficiency. This makes it accessible for all Americans.

compact fluorescent lightbulb with lighting tubes in spiral
The Compact Fluorescent lightbulb was created by Edward Hammer at General Electric in 1976.
Source: TCP

Compact fluorescent lights offer a wide array of different colors and are 50-75% more efficient than incandescent light bulbs. These bulbs contain mercury and argon inside a spiral. Inside, an integrated ballast generates an electric current that excites gaseous molecules, which produces a UV light. 

LED Bulbs

Today, the evolution of lighting has led to LED light bulbs. In 1962, General Electric’s Nick Holonyak Jr. invented the first LED and called it “the magic one”. This bulb contained GaAsP (Gallium Arsenide Phosphide), which is the semiconducting material that allows the energy in LED to generate light electronically. 

man holding two light bulbs that are lit up. the one on the left is an LED bulb and the one on the right is a spiral bulb
LED light bulbs were invented in 1962 by Nick Holonyak Jr. 
Source: FlipTheSwitch

There are a couple of different LED color temperatures that exist today. Soft white (2700K) is perfect for areas like lobbies, guest rooms, and residential living spaces.Bright white (4000K) is best suited for places where work is done, such as kitchens, garages, and warehouses. Daylight (5000K) promotes productivity and is excellent for reading, working, and any areas that need focus and high energy levels.

LED Technology has evolved extensively over the years for commercial, industrial, and residential needs. The improvements are seen through its lifespan, brightness, and energy efficiency. This evolution has led to the development of industry best practices, warranties, and government programs and standards that are used today. 

Rogers Electric is determined to find solutions for all your lighting needs. We provide a wide array of lighting solutions from preventative maintenance, relamps & retrofits, and energy solutions. Check out our lighting services to learn more.