From the Arc Lamp to LEDs — An Evolution of Lighting Technology

Any fifth grader can tell you that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, but British inventors were way ahead of him. Edison may have patented and commercialized his incandescent bulb in 1879, but in 1835, the arc lamp was already proving electric light was a very real possibility. We take it for granted these days, but the evolution of lighting technology makes for interesting reading.

Improving on the Original

Edison and his team had 40 years of trials to improve upon, which is why their light bulb had features like a more efficient vacuum, a bamboo filament, a lifetime of up to 1,200 hours, and what’s known as the Edison screw — the standard socket fitting for light bulbs. While there is some controversy about who did what when, Edison’s role in electrical lighting is notable because of all the inventions he created that made light bulb use so practical. He’s credited with developing the first commercial power utility and the first electric meter.

Meanwhile, other inventors were busy with other technological leaps in lighting — improved filament manufacturing, greater efficiency, and then, in 1904, the tungsten filament. It was a change that meant longer lifespans and better light quality. Nine years later, efficiency was doubled thanks to the addition of inert gas inside the bulb. Improvements like this continued over the next 40 years, pushing down the cost and bumping up efficiency, but incandescent technology was still pretty basic as last as the 1950s.

In the 19th century, a glass blower and a physician, both German, invented what’s know as the Geissler tube. It’s a kind of discharge lamp that would serve as the backbone of a number of lighting technologies — neon, low-pressure sodium, and fluorescent lights — a century later.

Energy Shortages Spur Advancements

Necessity is the mother of invention, and two crises in the US are proof of that. World War Two prompted a need for energy-efficient lighting in war plants, and fluorescents, which had improved thanks to a number of new findings, were quickly adopted. In the early 70s, the oil crisis was the incentive for engineers to develop a fluorescent bulb that could be used residentially, and the first CFL was born. Mass production wouldn’t happen until the mid 1980s, but high prices, bad fits, poor light output, and inconsistent performance plagued CFLs for another decade or so.

On to LEDs

The ups and downs of lighting technology over the last two centuries makes the advent of LEDs particularly impressive — they’re one of the fastest developing technologies with a laundry list of benefits. The light-emitting diode, or LED, is a solid-state type of lighting that uses a semiconductor to convert electricity into light. They’re very small and directional, which minimizes the need for reflectors or diffusers. LEDs are wildly efficient — up to 80% more than other lighting technologies — with a significantly longer lifespan and a better environmental record.

It’s attributes like these that make LED retrofits for residential, commercial and industrial spaces so appealing. In Reno, Have Lights Will Travel works closely with businesses on LED upgrades, in addition to offering commercial and industrial lighting repair and maintenance. For more information about upgrading to LEDs, or simply to maintain your current lighting, contact Have Lights today.