This might be one of the most “back to the drawing board” inventions there is. Some historians believe there are over 20 inventors of the incandescent lamps up to the point of Edison’s version. Many of these inventors did not publish any drawings or designs. Many of the earlier versions of the incandescent lamps would be made of material that is too expensive to sustain manufacturing or for the average consumer.
Humphry Davy created the first electric light in 1802, after experimenting with electricity and creating an electric battery. When he connected wires to the battery and a piece of carbon, the carbon lit up and produced light; however, the Electric Arc lamp was far too bright for practical use (History of the Light Bulb | Lighting Basics | Bulbs.com, n.d.). Not a realistic application for a lightbulb. Back to the drawing board.
In 1840 a British Scientist by the name of Warren de la Rue was able to produce light using coiled platinum filament would allow an electric current to pass through it. This time, the contraption was set in a vacuum Although an effective design, the cost of the platinum made it impractical for commercial production. The design was based on the idea that the high melting point of platinum would allow it to operate at high temperatures and that the evacuated chamber would contain fewer gas molecules to react with the platinum, improving its longevity (History of the Light Bulb | Lighting Basics | Bulbs.com, n.d.). Again, this was too expensive. Back to the drawing board.
In the 1850s a physicist by the name of Joseph Swan created a well-functioning prototype. This prototype was comprised of thin filaments of carbon paper in a vacuumed glass bulb. However, this version did not last long nor was there a sufficient flow of electricity. In 1878 he was able to improve on his prototype because of vacuum pump technology and replacing carbon filament with treated cotton thread. This prolonged the life of the light bulb. Not quite there yet, back to the drawing board.
Also in the 1870s, in Canada, a patent was filed by a medical electrician Henry Woodward and Mathew Evans. Their lamps contained carbon rods held between two electrodes held in a nitrogen filled glass cylinder. There was a failure to commercialize and was eventually sold. In comes Thomas Edison. Thomas Edison was able to capture the details of what worked and what didn’t and was able to patent a working lightbulb that utilized gas filled cylinders, carbon filament, treated cotton, wood splinters and eventually create a carbonized bamboo filament could last over 1200 hours. This lightbulb hit the market and was able to be distributed commercially by 1880.
What makes all of this a “perfect back to the drawing board” product is exactly how many times the electric bulb went back to the design phase. It is always cheaper to go to the drawing board before a product hits the manufacturing line. In my line of work (and many others I’m sure) we have the power of 10. A mistake in the drawings could cost $10 to fix. When it hits the manufacturer, it can cost $100 per product. If it makes it to the customer it can cost $1000 to correct. Money/cost all in itself is a pro and a con.
History of the Light Bulb | Lighting Basics | Bulbs.com. (n.d.). Bulbs.com. https://www.bulbs.com/learning/history.aspx
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