The Innovatio of Electric Light

The electric light is quite possibly the most important invention of the 19th century. It led to a transformation in almost every aspect of human life and continues to do so today. However, despite its importance, the electric light was not invented until 1879. This may seem ridiculous considering how much our world revolves around electricity, but it wasn’t as simple as switching on a light. Instead, it took years of research and development before we could flick a switch and see with artificial illumination. Here is a brief history of the development of electric light, from its first theoretical explanations to today’s widespread electrical systems.

The Ancient World

Light has been a part of human life since the beginning of time. It is believed that the discovery of fire was the first step in artificial light, as a natural source of light. Then, with the use of candles and lanterns, humans were able to extend their hours of activity. However, they were still reliant on the sun. Natural light was, of course, much weaker during the night, which was when most works was done. Artificial lighting was limited and required a source of combustible materials, such as tallow, oil, or beeswax. These produced smoke and other impurities, which made them undesirable for indoor use. The artificial lighting world was one of the slowest inventions in history. The first electric lights were not invented until 1879. That is over 2500 years after the first candles were used.

Late 1700’s: Becquerel’s Research and Discovery

The first known research into electricity was in the late 1700s when a scientist named Becquerel created the first electric cell. This cell produced a small amount of electricity by mixing metal with salt and placing the mixture in water. Becquerel believed that electricity was created by the mixing of two different substances, but he did not know how. Later research would confirm his ideas, but he would go largely unrecognized for his discoveries. His research was largely ignored as scientists searched for a way to generate electricity artificially. At the time, most research was focused on static electricity, which was created by rubbing two different materials together.

1800-1850: Scientists Find the Electromagnetic Spectrum

Throughout the 1800s, scientists began to understand the electromagnetic spectrum. They realized that electricity was only one part of a larger spectrum that also included magnetism and light. This led to a lot of experimentation with the different spectrums, trying to find out more about them and how they worked. One of these researchers was Michael Faraday, who demonstrated that electricity and light were related. Faraday showed that light was created by the movement of electricity. This was possible because he created the first light bulb, which was a thin metal filament suspended in a glass vessel. These bulbs produced a lot of heat, though, and could not be used for long. They were not very useful.

1876: The Platinum Cathode

It wasn’t until 1876 that Euglo Becquerel’s nephew, Pierre, wrote a very important paper. In this paper, he described an experiment in which a platinum cathode was used to produce a small amount of electricity. This cathode was heated and then cooled very quickly, causing it to emit electrons. This was the first method ever used to create artificial electricity. However, Pierre did not know how his experiment worked, nor did he use it to create light.

1879: Thomas Edison’s Incandescent Light Bulb

Three years later, in 1879, Thomas Edison began his research into electric light. At first, he used the same platinum cathode that Pierre had used to produce electricity. However, he quickly found that it was not practical. He tried a wide variety of materials before finally settling on carbon as the most efficient source of electrons. Later he wrapped the carbon in a thin piece of cotton thread and placed the bulb inside a glass vessel. This is why we call this first light bulb an incandescent bulb.

1886: Introduction of the term “Electricity” and “Electrician”

Edison’s light bulb was not the only one in creation. Many other inventors were working on similar technologies. In 1886, the International Electrical Exhibition was held in London. Here, all of the different inventions of the electrical age were demonstrated. This event marked the official beginning of electricity as a power source and the first use of the term “electricity.” The word was created by combining the word “electric” with “electricity.” The word “electrician” was also introduced as the official title for a person who works with electricity.

1899: The Incandescent Lamp Becomes Commercialized

The first incandescent lamp, as we know it, was introduced in 1899. It used a small, thin filament of carbon in a glass bulb to produce light. These lamps were very inefficient, but they were the best we had. The only problem was that they were incredibly expensive to operate. Using these bulbs in a large building would have been very expensive. However, they were the only source of artificial light, so they were used everywhere.


The development of the electric light was an extremely important part of history. It changed the way people lived and worked, allowing more hours of productivity. It also allowed for the development of new industries and the creation of new jobs. Most importantly, it allowed for a transformation in society. Because people were no longer tied to the natural rhythms of the sun, they could control their rhythms. The electric light represents the birth of modern society. It set the stage for all of the technological innovations of the 20th century and beyond.