The Electric Light Bulb

Swan's Early BulbElectric lighting was a holy grail for 19th-century inventors. The first man to realise this dream was Britains own Joseph Swan in 1878. But wait … didn’t Thomas Edison get there first? NO! He was beaten to it by Swan, working out of his private lab at his house in Gateshead. Swan got his patent in 1878 and started manufacturing and selling his bulbs – in 1879 – 2 years before Edison patented “his invention” !

 Christmas Tree Lights

hand-wired with 80 red, white, and blue electric light bulbs the size of walnuts — on December 22, 1882

So back to Christmas tree lights. The idea for electric lights on Christmas trees is credited to a man named Edward Hibberd. It was in 1882 – just 4 years after the invention of the bulb. At the time he was working for the “Edison Lamp Company

In 1871, it was Johnson who actually hired Edison, then a 24-year-old inventor, as a consultant for the Automatic Telegraph Company. Edison clearly made an impression on Johnson because when Edison left to start his own new company – he followed – quickly making himself useful turning Edison’s brainstorms into cash.

In 1877, after Edison invented the phonograph, Johnson took the machine on tour, charging crowds to drum up excitement. When Edison patented the light bulb in 1880 (note he patented it NOT invented it), Johnson again became his point man in turning Edison’s ideas into cash.

Setting up a Christmas tree by the street-side window of his parlour, Johnson hand-wired 80 red, white and blue light bulbs and strung them together around it, and placed the trunk on a revolving pedestal, all powered by a generator. Then he called a reporter. And the rest as they say is history.

In 1895, U.S. President Grover Cleveland proudly sponsored the first electrically lit Christmas tree in the White House, featuring more than a 100 multicoloured lights.

And so it’s Edward Johnson who we have to thank as the unsung set decorator for billions of Christmas snaps.

    Rivals – Swan & Edison

Like earlier renditions of the light bulb, Swan’s filaments were placed in a vacuum tube to minimise their exposure to oxygen, extending their lifespan. Unfortunately for Swan, the vacuum pumps of his day were not efficient as they are now, and while his prototype worked well for a demonstration, it was impractical in actual use.

Edison realised that the problem with Swan’s design was the filament. A thin filament with high electrical resistance would make a lamp practical because it would require only a little current to make it glow. He demonstrated his light bulb in December 1879.

Swan incorporated the improvement into his light bulbs and founded an electrical lighting company in England. Edison sued for patent infringement, but Swan’s patent was a strong claim, at least in the United Kingdom, and the two inventors eventually joined forces and formed Edison-Swan United, which became one of the world’s largest manufacturers of light bulbs, according to the Museum of Unnatural Mystery.

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