Was Thomas Edison the First To Invent the Lightbulb?

History

| LAST UPDATE 11/03/2022

By Veronica Anderson
thomas edison lightbulb invention
Bettman / Contributor via Getty Images

Although Thomas Edison is credited as the man who invented the lightbulb, the famous inventor wasn't the only one who took part in developing this life-changing technology. In addition to Edison, Joseph Swan, Humphrey Davey, and Alessandro Volta all played pivotal roles in creating the lightbulb. So let's take a look back at where the story began before Edison actually patened the first commercially successful bulb in 1879.

Almost 80 years prior, Italian inventor Alessandro Volta established the first method of generating electricity, the voltaic pile, through alternating discs of zinc and copper with layers of cardboard soaked in salt water. The layered pile conducted electricity once a copper wire was connected at either end. Volta's invention was considered the predecessor to the battery, in addition to one of the first steps towards incandescent lighting. 

Thomas Edison Lightbulb Invention
Getty Images via Michael Blann
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Due to Volta's findings, Humphrey Davey was able to create the first electric lamp by connecting the voltaic piles to charcoal electrodes, coining the name the "electric arc lamp." However, this invention still wasn't strong enough to be used as stand-alone lighting, and the electric arc lamp would burn out quite quickly. In 1840, a British scientist, Warren de la Rue, created a more substantial design of the lightbulb with a coiled platinum filament, but it was found too expensive. Eventually, the chemist Joseph Swan stepped in to solve the problem of making electrical light more affordable for all. In 1860, he created a "lightbulb that used carbonized paper filaments in place of those made of platinum" and received a patent in the U.K. in 1878, according to BBC.

However, Edison found Swan's prototype wasn't logical enough for everyday use, as he figured out a thin filament with high electrical resistance was enough for everyday use, seeing as it would need only a little current to actually make it glow. Edison attempted to sue Swan for patent infringement, but in the end, they joined together, creating one of the world's largest manufacturers of lightbulbs, known as Edison-Swan United. However, Edison is credited with the historical moment because he and his team of researchers created the most practical and inexpensive lightbulb after years of testing thousands of designs and materials, and they finally landed on the one.

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