Resource Center Contact Us My Account
Home » Resources » The Incandescent Filament Bulb: Gone in a Flash

The Incandescent Filament Bulb: Gone in a Flash

Incandescent filament light bulbs have a long history in the U.S., but contrary to popular belief, they weren’t really invented by Thomas Edison. In fact, several filament bulbs were created (and fizzled out) several decades before Edison produced the first commercially viable filament bulb in 1879.

So what happened before Edison “invented” the incandescent filament bulb?


Humphry Davy used platinum to conduct electricity and light indoor spaces, but the platinum they required made his bulbs impractical and expensive. They weren’t very bright, and they fizzled out quickly, but future inventors used his ideas as a jumping-off point.


James Bowman Lindsay got a great start, but he gave up on improving his invention in favor of wireless telegraphy.


Warren de la Rue put a platinum filament in a vacuum tube, but again, platinum has never been cheap.


Frederick de Moleyns patented the platinum filament idea in England, but his efforts gave way to more cost-effective inventions in other parts of the world.


John W. Starr patented incandescent bulbs with carbon filaments, but he passed away soon after; his ideas went with him.


Alexander Lodygin got a patent in Russia for the filament bulb for his 1872 invention, and he later moved to the U.S. and changed his name to de Lodyguine to get patents on bulbs using chromium, tungsten and molybdenum. He showcased his molybdenum filament bulb at the 1900 Exposition Universelle.


Henry Woodward and Mathew Evans received a Canadian patent for a filament bulb, but they couldn’t sell the idea to manufacturers. Instead, they sold the rights to their patent to Thomas Edison in 1879.

While incandescent filament bulbs gave us more than a century of the most effective, efficient light possible, new innovations in light-emitting diodes have flipped the switch on them. Although they’re still in widespread use, the future is LEDs.

Why have people stopped using incandescent lightbulbs?

Incandescent light bulbs have been great. They shone through the Great Depression, gave rise to modern flash photography and even made night-driving safer. But they're not as efficient as their more modern counterparts; they don't last as long and they hog resources that could be better used elsewhere

In the U.S., production of incandescent bulbs has all but stopped. Legislation passed in 2007 required the phase-out in favor of more energy-efficient alternatives. The U.S. Department of Energy says that consumers can slash their energy costs by up to 80 percent by making the switch, and LEDs last between three and 25 times longer than incandescent filament bulbs.

The Good News about LEDs

If cost-effectiveness and energy efficiency aren’t inspiring enough to help you embrace the switch because you adore that incandescent yellow glow, you’re in luck. New LEDs can provide the exact same light quality while casting the same amber glow. Vintage LED filament bulbs are ideal for retail and hospitality applications, as well as for residential homes, and they provide all the benefits that make modern bulbs more attractive.

Related Items