The End of the Incandescent Light Bulb War - An Engineer's Aspect


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Friday, January 10, 2014

The End of the Incandescent Light Bulb War

This month marks the beginning of the end of a very long war over incandescent light bulbs. Traditional 40 and 60 watt incandescent light bulbs will no longer be available when your bulbs burn out. You will have to find an alternative, thanks to a government law passed in 2007, which ruled that the incandescents don't meet efficiency standards.

To some of us, this is a relatively new debate. Some people are even shocked that they won't be able to purchase replacements--so shocked that they are stockpiling light bulbs.

However, this light bulb war began almost as soon as the incandescent bulb was invented in the late 1800s. Thomas Edison's revolutionary carbon-filament light inspired many others to try improving the bulb or find alternatives. One such person was Nikola Tesla.

Whichever side of the war you, your parents, your grandparents, your great-grandparents or their parents were on, there is no denying the genius of Thomas Edison and the fact that he changed the world forever with the bulb that truly made him look like the "Wizard of Menlo Park."

Thomas Edison and his Incandescent Light Bulbs

The light bulb war was fully underway in 1896. In the following newspaper article, Thomas Edison defends the energy efficiency of his incandescent bulb while Nikola Tesla touts the efficiency and superior light of his phosphorescent lighting. D. McFarlan Moore also weighs in with his gas-discharge based lighting.

The Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Wednesday, May 13, 1896, Page 5.


Edison and Other Electricians Working to
Perfect Apparatus--City Fortunate in
Having a Short Contract--Some Fine Im-
provements Now Sure to Come.

Cedar Rapids is paying a stiff price for electric street lighting, but fortunately it has only a short contract. At the expiration of that contract the city will no doubt be able to effect a very reasonable contract. Davenport has made a twenty year contract at $50 per light, and other cities are tied up in a similar manner, something they are likely to regret when new inventions come into use, as they surely will.

There are many indications that we are soon to have electric lights so cheap that anybody can afford them. At least this is the promise of three noted electricians who have been working on the problem for some time past. The fact that Thomas A. Edison and Nikola Tesla are two of the three referred to gives strong assurance that we may look for a revolution in our system of illumination in the near future.

A writer in the Washington Star has had an interview with Edison from which the following is taken:

"I had occasion to pay a number of visits to the laboratory of Mr. Edison near Llewellyn Park, N. J., within the past month, in order to find out how he was progressing with his experiments with the wonderful Roentgen rays, which seem to respect neither substance nor shadow, but go through every thing. It was on one of these trips that I learned from Mr. Edison's own lips how he had practically succeeded in improving his incandescent lamp so that he could run 20 of them for each horse power used. This is a distinct gain of 33 1-3 per cent, as at present only fifteen lamps can be run per horse power.

"I started out with ten incandescent lamps per horse power," said the wizard, "and after a while succeeded in bringing these up to such a state of perfection as to string fifteen of them on a line for each horse power employed. Now I have practically succeeded in improving my incandescent lamps so that I can put twenty lamps where I could only put fifteen before."

"Then you are not experimenting with etheric or phosphorescent lighting," I said.

"No," replied Mr. Edison, "I believe that the incandescent lamp can be improved so that it will give as good light at as small a cost as anything in the market. Besides, I don't take any stock in these graveyard lights that some electricians are experimenting with. The incandescent light sends out as soft and mellow a light as could be expected: it is quite adequate for all practical purposes."

"Would you care to state just how you have improved your new lamp?"

"Not just yet. I have still some finishing touches to make on it. You see, when Prof. Roentgen made his wonderful discovery of the X rays, I dropped everything in order to repeat the experiments here. These rays open up wonderful possibilities in the electrical world, and may make it necessary for us to completely reconstruct the undulatory theory of light. Just think where we are now! Photographing through wood and metal, talking by telephone a thousand miles away, telegraphing under the ocean, despite of storms and tempest--why, one of these days we shall perhaps see by electricity."

"You will keep your carbon filament in the improved incandescent lamp and not dispense with it, as Tesla proposes to do?" I asked.

"Oh, yes," he replied. "No need of changing that now. I had quite a time finding it; I searched all over creation. They are using cellulose now, but it isn't much cheaper than the Japanese bamboo splints that I first used."

"Then you think your latest improvement will cheapen electric lighting?" I asked again.

"I don't see how it can help it," replied Mr. Edison. "If I can run twenty lamps where I now use fifteen, don't you see that there will be a considerable saving?"

"Have you taken out your patents yet?"

"No--nor shall I. I don't believe in getting things patented any more. It doesn't protect you. The only safe way is to keep the secret yourself as far as possible."

I had a pleasant chat with Nikola Tesla the other day, and learned from him that he has about perfected his new phosphorescent light, which will come as near artificial daylight as anything yet attempted. There will be no filament in the glass bulb; nevertheless it will glow with all the brilliancy of an arc light. The current employed will be of low voltage, but it will be changed into one of high potential by induction coils. In this way three improvements will be erected over the present incandescent lamps--brighter illumination, no deadly wires and cheaper cost.

Mr. Tesla is not yet ready to give to the public the details of his wonderful invention, but those who have seen the new light say that it will work a revolution in methods of illumination. Some remarkable photographs have already been obtained from it. It is stated that the cost will be scarcely one-half of the rates that at present prevail.

The third electrician who is grappling with the problem of cheap illumination is D. McFarlan Moore, who claims to have solved the secret of the fire fly. Following close upon the heels of Roentgen's rays, the discovery promises to work a revolution in electric illumination and foreshadows an era of one unbroken day.

There are no hairpin filaments in Mr. Moore's system, as with the incandescent lamp, and the illuminating agent is disturbed through water and gas.

Mr. Moore's invention involves a new principle in molecular vibration. He separates the several divisions of energy and employs only the illuminating elements. He hopes to get as much light with a one-volt as Tesla now does with 1,000,000 volts. In short, the new light promises to turn things topsy-turvey. We are certainly on the eve of a revolution in electric lighting, if Tesla, Edison and Moore are to be believed.

Mr. Moore's new light, owing to the absence of heat, requires little power to generate it, and can be produced from a battery the size of that which rings the front door bell. In other words, an ordinary glass jar, containing pieces of zinc and carbon immersed in acid, will furnish a current sufficient to produce a good illumination.

Mr. Moore's apparatus is not much bigger than an ordinary size teacup, and the little machine that breaks the circuit and corresponds to the electric bell is not bigger than one's finger.