Thomas Edison popularized the incandescent light bulb but he didn’t invent it. In fact, there were 22 other “inventors” of the light bulb who came before Edison, according to historians Robert Friedel and Paul Israel.
Starting with Englishman Sir Humphry Davy — who first created incandescent light by passing an electrical current through a thin strip of platinum in 1802 — it seems that light bulb was invented anew every few years throughout the 19th Century.
It turns out, however, that passing current through a filament to create incandescent light was the easy part. The more difficult task was finding a long-lasting, cost-effective design for light bulbs that could be defended from the proto-patent trolls, competitors and outright frauds who sought to profit from the device. The history of the light bulb’s “invention” is one of ingenious tinkerers pursuing the same goal through a variety of different means but falling short because of technical and business problems. Edison (who founded General Electric, which sponsors this magazine) gets credit because he had the right match of technical skill and business acumen to illuminate the world.
Click below to see pictures and descriptions related to the first 10 incandescent lightbulb inventions.