Incandescent Light Bulbs

In the beginning of time, the sun was the only source of light for living creatures on earth. Humans discovered fire approximately 350 thousand years ago, which served as  their main source of light (other than the sun) until the 19th century. In 1802, Sir Humphry Davy made the first attempt to produce electric light. In the 1870s, both Sir Joseph Swan and Thomas Edison created their own models of the first light bulbs, though Thomas Edison is credited as the sole inventor of the light bulb and hailed as the “Father of Electricity”.


The composition of light bulbs has evolved greatly since Edison’s time. Standard incandescent light bulbs have three main parts: the bulb, the base, and the filament. The bulb is made of glass with a coating of silica on the inside in order to prevent the glowing filament inside the bulb to produce glare. The base of the light bulb is made of either brass or aluminum, and the filament is made of tungsten. Wires made of various materials like nickel, copper, and aluminum connect the filament to the base. When light bulbs are produced, the air is removed from the bulb and replaced with a mixture of argon and nitrogen that slow down the evaporation of the filament and allow the light bulb to last longer.


The United States is the 2nd largest producer of glass and the 6th largest producer of aluminum and copper. China produces nearly all of the world’s supply of tungsten, making it a material that would need to be bought from China in order to make light bulbs in America.


Although the current design of incandescent light bulbs is able to produce a satisfactory amount of light, only about 5% of the energy used to power the bulb is actually converted into light; the other 95% of energy is converted into heat, thus making it very energy inefficient. Some concerns about the dangers of incandescent light bulbs is that they are brittle and become very hot, and it is possible for them burst. Studies have also found that these light bulbs can damage vision and cause cataracts. These bulbs are not chemically dangerous so they are permitted to be thrown out like regular garbage and taken to a landfill. Since they only last about 1,000 to 2,000 hours, they are thrown out frequently and add to the ever-increasing amount of land pollution. A potential way to combat this is by decreasing the use of incandescent light bulbs and switching to another light alternative, like LED lights—which last between 25,000 and 50,000 hours.


The invention of the light bulb essentially jump-started the economy. Once electric lighting became available, businesses were able to stay open for longer hours than they had previously been able to. This increased the production of goods and the availability of services, so money is able to move faster in the economy. The light bulb allowed the American legacy of inventiveness to thrive as people continued to design and produce better sources of light, as they still do today.


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