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The life and death of a faithful friend.

Posted by Chris Thompson on 3rd September 2009

The Government has this month begun a “voluntary phase out” of 100 watt light bulbs in major stores, claiming it could slash carbon emissions by around five million tonnes a year.  

Britain has also signed up to a separate EU proposal which will see all traditional bulbs banned by 2016.  

It is only fitting that we at Trade Skills 4U write this eulogy and share with you the life and times of the humble incandescent lamp.

I’m not one to cast aspersions on the moral integrity of its mother, but many men were involved in the conception of the humble incandescent lamp.   

1809. Englishman, Humphrey Davy created the first electric arc lamp using two strips of charcoal and high powered battery.  

1820. Warren De la Rue made the first known attempt at producing an incandescent light bulb. He enclosed a platinum coil in an evacuated tube and passed an electric current through it.  

1840. Englishman, William Robert Grove succeeded in lighting an auditorium with incandescent lamps. The lamps were constructed of platinum coils encased in an inverted glass sealed by water. The platinum coils proved two expensive and the idea was impractical for commercial use.  

1841. Frederik de Moleyns, received the first patent for an incandescent lamp. The design involved mounting a powdered charcoal filament between two platinum wires in a glass bulb under vacuum.  

1845. American, W.E. Staite patented a second incandescent electric lamp in England. Thomas Wright obtained the first patent for the arc lamp.  

1846. John Daper patented a platinum filament incandescent lamp. This allowed the filament to operate at higher temperatures and thus produce more light. The high cost and scarcity of platinum made this design impractical for commercial use.  

1850. English scientist, Edward G. Shepherd made an incandescent lamp using a charcoal filament. Joseph Wilson swan, started work on carbon filaments using paper. Carbon filaments provided a low cost and practical filament material for the time.  

1854. A German watchmaker, Heinrich Gobel, who had emigrated to New York, used carbonized bamboo as a filament and secured this inside a glass container as his incandescent lamp.  

1856. C de Chagny, a French engineer, patented an incandescent lamp for use in mines that contained a platinum filament. 

1860. John T. Way demonstrated that passing electricity through mercury vapour contained in a glass tube could produce light. This was the forerunner of the fluorescent light.

1879. The incandescent lamp is born but there is some doubt as to who the father is. Both Thomas A. Edison of the United States and Joseph Wilson Swan of England claim paternity.    

Edison had the greater claim as his carbon fibre, derived from cotton, filament lamp lasted for 13.5 hours. Later this is improved to 40 hours.

1880. Edison produces a carbon fibre filament that enables his new lamps to last for 1200 hours.     

1893. Heinrich Gobel, successfully brought a paternity suit against Thomas A. Edison and was named as the father of the incandescent lamp.     

1898. German Scientist, Karl Auer produces osmium filaments which  had increased lifetimes.  

1902. Light bulbs with osmium filaments are produced commercially. This  success is short lived due to the high cost of the lamps.  

1903. Siemens and Halske of Charlottenburg produced tantalum filament  bulbs.  

1904. Willis R. Whitnew developed a metal coated carbon filament.       

1906. General Electric Company patented a method of making tungsten filaments for incandescent lamps. The filament as we know it came to be.  

1907.  The first commercial tungsten filament for incandescent lamps became available in the United States.  

1910. American, William D. Coolidge developed an improved method to produce tungsten filaments.  

1925. Incandescent lamps with frosted glass interiors, to filter out undesirable wavelengths and produce a ‘soft’ light, were produced. The future was looking bright for the incandescent lamp.   

1960. Halogen filled incandescent lamps were produced, giving a brighter light.          

1976.  The Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) was invented by Edward E Hammer. This black sheep of the family is hidden away from polite society by General Electric.   

1995. Despite the efforts of GE to hide him away and protect us all from the evil one, CFL is seen in public and gains support from other manufactures as well as conservationists. The end is neigh my friend.   

So It is with a sad heart that we have to announce that on September 1st, 2009 after a long life of selfless service to the public, the 100W incandescent lamp passed away. It was not through some heroic act on its part but rather through the stroke of a pen and at the hands of politicians and Eurocrats that this most noble of items finally met its end.   

It shall remain in memoriam in thousands of cupboards, in thousands of homes. May you forever rest in peace my old friend, no longer will you brighten our dark days with your warm, friendly glow, beaming out from amidst life’s gloom. No longer will we be able to flick a switch and instantly have a light bright enough to lighten the darkest room. No longer will I be able to turn you down to a more romantic level or up to a level that illuminates every dark corner and recess.  Goodbye my old friend the end has finally come.   

Categories: electrician training