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History of the lightbulb from incandescent to compact fluorescent

practical visible LED

The invention of electric light began long before Thomas Edison patented the incandescent lightbulb in 1879. In fact, British inventors demonstrated that electric light was plausible with an arc lamp as early as 1835. Edison is often credited with inventing the first light bulb because he took these discoveries, improved them and came out with the first commercially practical incandescent light bulb. 

Since 1835, electric light has evolved to produce different forms of light, including incandescent, fluorescent, halogen, light-emitting diode (LED) and compact fluorescent. 

Notable dates

carbon filament bulb


1879 – Thomas Edison created a carbon filament that allowed incandescent lightbulbs to glow for up to 40 hours, much longer than other lamps at the time. Today, incandescent bulbs are the most widely used for their long-lasting light and low cost — though the tide is shifting.

mercury vapor lamp

1901 - 1903 – Peter Cooper Hewitt invented the first mercury vapor lamp in 1901. He later improved the model and brought the lamps to market in 1903. These mercury lamps represented the first prototype for the fluorescent tubes we’re accustomed to seeing in large areas such as basements and attics.

halogen lamp

1955 – 1959 – Emmett Wiley and Elmer Fridrich discovered halogen lighting in 1955 and later received a patent for the tungsten halogen lamp in 1959. Halogen lightbulbs use a high-temperature tungsten filament, which is sealed within a transparent quartz envelope and mixed with a small amount of halogen. The light that results is bright white and more efficient than incandescent bulbs; halogen bulbs are also longer lasting.

practical visible LED

1962 – Nick Holonyak, Jr., invented the first practical visible LED in 1962. LED bulbs convert electricity into light using a semiconductor with the ability to emit light in a specific direction. The original LED emitted a visible red light instead of an infrared light, helping pave the way for the various shades of LED lights we use today. 

compact fluorescent light

1976 – Edward E. Hammer invented the compact fluorescent light (CFL) after discovering a way to bend fluorescent tubes into a spiral shape in response to the 1973 oil crisis. These bulbs last 10 times longer than incandescent lights and use 75 percent less energy.

In the past several years, lighting technology has vastly improved, helping consumers reduce electricity costs and significantly lower carbon emissions. According to a Goldman Sachs report, “The rapid adoption of LEDs in lighting marks one of the fastest technology shifts in human history.” We have more than 180 years of lighting history and research to thank for such drastic improvements.

Sources: Bulbs.comDepartment of EnergyEncyclopaedia BritannicaHGTVHistory of LightingThe AtlanticThink ProgressWired

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