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Who invented the light bulb?

Did Thomas Edison invent the lightbulb? He usually gets the credit, but he might have been much better at spotting technologies—like William Wallace‘s arc lamp—and improving on them with the help of his reputation and a massive team. That team included inventor, patent draftsman, and African-American renaissance man Lewis Latimer.

Learn about Lewis Latimer and his historic contributions to both the telephone and the light bulb’s carbon filament. Lindsey Murphy, aka Crazy Aunt Lindsey, explains in this episode of The Fab Lab. More about Latimer from MIT:

Edison’s prototypical light bulb was lit by a glowing, electrified filament made of paper, which unfortunately burnt out rather quickly. Latimer created a light bulb with a filament made of the much more durable carbon. He sold the patent for the “Incandescent Electric Light Bulb with Carbon Filament” to the United States Electric Company in 1881, but he did not rest on his laurels. Latimer went on to patent a process for efficiently manufacturing the carbon filament (1882) and developed the now familiar threaded socket (though his was wooden) for his improved bulb.

light bulb anatomy

Moreover, Latimer wrote the first book on electric lighting, “Incandescent Electric Lighting” (1890) and supervised the installation of public electric lights throughout New York, Philadelphia, Montreal, and London.

Latimer’s other patented inventions include such diverse items as the first water closet (i.e., toilet) for railroad cars (1874) and a forerunner of the air conditioner (1886). Although today’s light bulbs use filaments of tungsten, which lasts even longer than carbon, Latimer will always be remembered for making the widespread use of electric light possible, in public and at home.

Inventor Lewis Latimer
Related DIY project video with The Fab Lab: How to Make a Lemon Battery Nightlight.

Plus, learn more about the light bulb’s origins with materials scientist Ainissa Ramirez’s book The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another (Bookshop, Amazon) and this Short Wave science podcast:

Then watch videos with Ramirez on TKSST, including: Picking up NASA’s 2,200 degree thermal tiles with bare hands.

Plus, more about the light bulb:
• In the West Orange lab of Thomas Edison
• How to build a light bulb – Sick Science!
• The Bulb Factory: How vintage filament bulbs are made by hand

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