Thursday, August 1, 2019

Building blocks..........................

     It's a thrilling story of invention:  the young wizard of Menlo Park has a flash of inspiration, and within a few years his idea is lighting up the world.  The problem with this story is that people had been inventing incandescent light for eighty years before Edison turned his mind to it.  The lightbulb involves three fundamental elements:  some kind of filament hat glows when an electrical current runs through it, some mechanism to keep the filament from burning out to quickly, and a means of supplying electric power to start the reaction in the first place.  In 1802, the British chemist Humphry Davy had attached a platinum filament to an early electric battery, causing it to burn brightly for a few minutes.  By the 1840's dozens of separate inventors were working on variations of the lightbulb.  The first patent was issued in 1841 to an Englishman named Frederick de Moleyns.  The historian Arthur A. Bright compiled a list of lightbulb's partial inventors, leading up to Edison's ultimate triumph in the late 1870s. [one version of that list may be found on page 38 of this pdf.]

-Steven Johnson, How We Got to Now:  Six Innovations That Made the Modern World

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