How Did the Light Bulb Change the World?

By Staff WriterLast Updated May 27, 2020 7:53:01 PM ET
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During the 1800s, many inventions revolutionized the United States and the world. One of these was the light bulb. With the invention of the light bulb, people began altering their homes with electricity and using the light bulb instead of fire for nighttime light. The effects of this invention were not all positive. With the light bulb now being used more frequently, the gas companies were suffering, and gas stocks went down. 

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The new invention of the light bulb also spurred the expansion of electrical power grids everywhere. The largest of these was first built in 1895 in Niagara Falls. At the time, this was the world's first power station. The light bulb brought about more inventions such as electrical appliances, the phonograph, and even other versions of the light bulb.

The long-term effects on society were noticed. People were staying up later in the evenings because of the lighting they now had, cities became more social in the evenings, and homes were safer now that they weren't being lit and heated by fire.

Who Invented the Light Bulb?

Although Thomas Edison is credited with the invention of the light bulb in 1879, other inventors were working on various designs to produce electricity or light. In the year 1800, Alessandro Volta, an Italian inventor, was working on a way to generate electricity. He used zinc and copper for this invention and, in the process, the copper wire would glow and produce light. 


Warren de la Rue designed a version of the light bulb in 1840. His bulb used copper wire and a platinum filament, and it worked successfully. However, the price of platinum was too high, preventing the invention from becoming a success. Joseph Swan was an English chemist that also came up with this version of the light bulb in 1850. His was made with a carbonized paper filament but didn't have the technology to make the vacuum pump of the bulb to work efficiently.


Edison discovered what the issue was with Swan's design and came up with an invention that used a thinner filament that made the bulb operate more efficiently. Edison's version of the light bulb was considered a success in 1879 and, by 1880, he founded his own electric company named Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York. 


How Does a Light Bulb Work?


When Edison designed the first light bulb, it worked with the power of electricity. The electricity traveled through a glass vacuum bulb to a delicate platinum filament to provide the light. The vacuum of the glass bulb would slow down the melting of the filament. This bulb would only last a few hours before burning out.


Today, the light bulb is designed very differently. The metal base at the bottom of the bulb has two metal contacts to connect to an electrical circuit. Two wires travel from the metal contacts to a thin metal filament in the middle of the bulb. The glass bulb that surrounds the wires and filament contains an inert gas, usually argon. When an electrical current powers the light bulb, the energy travels through the wires to the filament to create light. The modern-day light bulb, in more scientific terms, radiates light by a reaction between positively and negatively charged atoms. 


The Different Types of Light Bulbs


The incandescent light bulb was the first one put into use for the common home. Today, there are fluorescent lamps, compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) bulbs, halogen bulbs, and light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs. 


Incandescent Bulbs


This bulb used to be the most commonly used in homes and other buildings. This bulb operates a little differently than the original invented by Edison. It brings light by passing a current through wires to a tungsten filament, which provides a glow. These bulbs have a life of about 700 to 1,000 hours.


Fluorescent Bulbs


These bulbs are tubes made up of gases, such as mercury. The light works by an electric current traveling from cathodes on the ends of the bulb to the gases, which radiate energy. The tubes have a phosphorus coating, which takes the energy and converts it to light. The fluorescent bulbs last longer but contain gases, so they need to be disposed of in a special way.


CFL


CFL bulbs are more energy-efficient than an incandescent bulb and last about 10,000 hours. Many homes replaced their incandescent bulbs with CFLs. These bulbs are a spiral shape and operate with the same technology as the fluorescent tubes.


Halogen Lamps


Halogen lamps are popular in older floor lamps and car headlamps. These are much more efficient and compact than an incandescent bulb. Halogen lamps operate with a tungsten filament that is surrounded by a transparent casing. The bulb is filled with an inert gas and halogen, which increases the life and brightness of the light.


LED


LED bulbs are the most popular found in homes and buildings all around the world. These bulbs come in a variety of light colors and are a top choice due to their energy efficiency. The LED bulb works by an electric current traveling to a negatively charged diode, which creates a flow of electrons and protons.