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A Brief History of Electric Lighting

Artificial electric lighting technology goes back tens of thousands of years and is one of the most sustaining aspects of the human experience. We are still developing and perfecting new lighting technologies much as we were a thousand years ago. Although the pace at which lighting technology has developed has increased substantially in the last two hundred years in comparison with the thousands of years prior, the initial developments are no less important.

In fact, these earliest developments in lightning established a starting point from which all subsequent technologies could thrive. From the first oil lamps and candles to sophisticated LED light fixtures, the history of electric lighting is a long one. Here is a quick overview of some of the more defining moments.

The Early Days

From the early eras of hunter gatherers, artificial lighting was used as a way to fend off animals and stay warm at night. If you go back far enough you’ll find evidence of early humans using hollowed out rocks or other objects filled will moss, soaked in fat, and set ablaze as lights. From these crude inventions came more sophisticated means of carrying light. Soon candles and oil lamps emerged as more effective ways to preserve light. These were easily had by using animal fat and natural oils to keep a flame burning for hours at a time.

Lights Get Brighter

By the ninth and tenth centuries, Arabs had perfected kerosene lamps and even had streetlights. This set the path for central fixed oil lamps and gas lights in the eighteenth century. Though there was a significant period of little lighting technology innovation–corresponding in large part to the European Dark Ages, at the turn of the eighteenth century things began to take off. By late century, gas lights were popular and electric lights were on their way. The first electric lamp emerged in the early nineteenth century and blew people away with its luminescence–being more than one thousand times brighter than a candle.

At mid-century, modern kerosene lamps using petroleum based fuel were in wide use. Electric light bulbs and fluorescent lamps were also developing. By the end of the century, Edison had produced a 16 watt light bulb and incandescent and commercial lamps were patented and widely available.

Modern Times

The twentieth century saw the burgeoning of the commercial electric lighting industry. Experiments with energy saving lighting and light emitting diodes grows throughout mid-century. Lighting design began to grow in popularity toward the late twentieth century and more compact and energy saving lighting begins to be developed. Finally, LED lights take reign and move into widespread use as more efficient, longer lasting lighting sources. Lighting continues to play a fundamental role in our lives and electric lighting technology is still rapidly growing as we find new, more unique, efficient ways to illuminate our surroundings.