Sunday July 11, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The Light Bulb
On this Day:
Everyone knows that Thomas Edison, the famous inventor, created the world’s first electric light bulb. Or did he? The facts are a bit, shall we say, illuminating…
On this day in 1892, the US Patent Office said that Joseph Swan, rather than Thomas Edison, invented the electric light carbon for the incandescent lamp.
Sir Joseph Wilson Swan FRS (31 October 1828 – 27 May 1914) was an English physicist, chemist, and inventor. He is known as an independent early developer of a successful incandescent light bulb, and is the person responsible for developing and supplying the first incandescent lights used to illuminate homes and public buildings, including the Savoy Theatre, London, in 1881.
In 1904, Swan was knighted by King Edward VII, awarded the Royal Society’s Hughes Medal, and was made an honorary member of the Pharmaceutical Society. He had received the highest decoration in France, the Legion of Honour, when he visited the 1881 International Exposition of Electricity, Paris. The exhibition included displays of his inventions, and the city was lit with his electric lighting.
In 1850, Swan began working on a light bulb using carbonised paper filaments in an evacuated glass bulb. By 1860, he was able to demonstrate a working device, but the lack of a good vacuum, and an adequate electric source, resulted in an inefficient light bulb with a short lifetime. In August 1863 he presented his own design for a vacuum pump to a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The design used mercury falling through a tube to trap air from the system to be evacuated. Swan’s design was similar in construction to the Sprengel pump and predates Herman Sprengel’s research by two years. Furthermore, it is notable that Sprengel conducted his research while visiting London, and would likely be aware of the annual reports of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Nonetheless, Joseph Swan and Thomas Edison are later reported to have used the Sprengel pump to evacuate their carbon filament lamps.
In 1875, Swan returned to consider the problem of the light bulb with the aid of a better vacuum and a carbonised thread as a filament. The most significant feature of Swan’s improved lamp was that there was little residual oxygen in the vacuum tube to ignite the filament, thus allowing the filament to glow almost white-hot without catching fire. However, his filament had low resistance, thus needing heavy copper wires to supply it.
Swan first publicly demonstrated his incandescent carbon lamp at a lecture for the Newcastle upon Tyne Chemical Society on 18 December 1878. However, after burning with a bright light for some minutes in his laboratory, the lamp broke down due to excessive current. On 17 January 1879, this lecture was successfully repeated with the lamp shown in actual operation; Swan had solved the problem of incandescent electric lighting by means of a vacuum lamp. On 3 February 1879, he publicly demonstrated a working lamp to an audience of over seven hundred people in the lecture theatre of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne, Sir William Armstrong of Cragside presiding. Swan turned his attention to producing a better carbon filament, and the means of attaching its ends. He devised a method of treating cotton to produce “parchmentised thread”, and obtained British Patent 4933 on 27 November 1880. From that time he began installing light bulbs in homes and landmarks in England.
His house, Underhill, Low Fell, Gateshead, was the world’s first to have working light bulbs installed. The Lit & Phil Library in Westgate Road, Newcastle, was the first public room lit by electric light during a lecture by Swan on 20 October 1880. In 1881, he founded his own company, The Swan Electric Light Company, and started commercial production.
The Savoy, a state-of-the-art theatre in the City of Westminster, London, was the first public building in the world lit entirely by electricity. Swan supplied about 1,200 incandescent lamps, powered by an 88.3-kilowatt (118.4-horsepower) generator on open land near the theatre. The builder of the Savoy, Richard D’Oyly Carte, explained why he had introduced Swan’s electric light: “The greatest drawbacks to the enjoyment of the theatrical performances are, undoubtedly, the foul air and heat which pervade all theatres. As everyone knows, each gas-burner consumes as much oxygen as many people, and causes great heat beside. The incandescent lamps consume no oxygen, and cause no perceptible heat.” The first generator proved too small to power the whole building, and though the entire front-of-house was electrically lit, the stage was lit by gas until 28 December 1881. At that performance, Carte stepped on stage and broke a glowing lightbulb before the audience to demonstrate the safety of Swan’s new technology. On 29 December 1881, The Times described the electric lighting as superior, visually, to gaslight.
The first private residence, other than the inventor’s, lit by the new incandescent lamp was that of his friend, Sir William Armstrong at Cragside, near Rothbury, Northumberland. Swan personally supervised the installation there in December 1880. Swan had formed “The Swan Electric Light Company Ltd” with a factory at Benwell, Newcastle, and had established the first commercial manufacture of incandescent lightbulbs by the beginning of 1881.
Swan’s carbon rod lamp and carbon filament lamp, while functional, were still relatively impractical due to low resistance (needing very expensive thick copper wiring) and short running life. While searching for a better filament for his light bulb, Swan inadvertently made another advance. In 1881, he developed and patented a process for squeezing nitrocellulose through holes to form conducting fibres. His newly established company (which by merger eventually became the Edison and Swan United Company) used Swan’s cellulose filaments in their bulbs. The textile industry has also used this process.
The first ship to use Swan’s invention was The City of Richmond, owned by the Inman Line. She was fitted with incandescent lamps in June 1881. The Royal Navy also introduced them to their ships soon after; with HMS Inflexible having the new lamps installed in the same year. An early employment in engineering was during the digging of the Severn Tunnel, where contractor Thomas Walker installed “20-candlepower lamps” in the temporary pilot tunnels.
Swan was one of the early developers of the electric safety lamp for miners, exhibiting his first in Newcastle upon Tyne at the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers on 14 May 1881. This required a wired supply, so the following year, he presented one with a battery and other improved versions followed. By 1886, a lamp with better light output than a flame safety lamp was in production by the Edison-Swan Company. However, it suffered from problems of reliability and was not a success. It took development by others over the next 20 years or so before effective electric lamps were in common use.
In what are considered to be independent lines of inquiry, Swan’s incandescent electric lamp was developed at the same time Thomas Edison was working on his incandescent lamp with Swan’s first successful lamp and Edison’s lamp both patented in 1879. Edison’s goal in developing his lamp was for it to be used as one part of a much larger system: a long-life high-resistance lamp that could be connected in parallel to work economically with the large-scale electric-lighting utility he was creating. Swan’s original lamp design, with its low resistance (the lamp could only be used in series) and short life span, was not suited for such an application. Swan’s strong patents in Great Britain led, in 1883, to the two competing companies merging to exploit both Swan’s and Edison’s inventions, with the establishment of the Edison & Swan United Electric Light Company. Known commonly as “Ediswan”, the company sold lamps made with a cellulose filament that Swan had invented in 1881, while the Edison Company continued using bamboo filaments outside of Britain. In 1892, General Electric (GE) began exploiting Swan’s patents to produce cellulose filaments, until they were replaced in 1904 by a GE developed “General Electric Metallized” (GEM) baked cellulose filaments.
In 1886, Ediswan moved production to a former jute mill at Ponders End, North London. In 1916, Ediswan set up the UK’s first radio thermionic valve factory at Ponders End. This area, with nearby Brimsdown subsequently developed as a centre for the manufacture of thermionic valves, cathode ray tubes, etc., and nearby parts of Enfield became an important centre of the electronics industry for much of the 20th century. Ediswan became part of British Thomson-Houston and Associated Electrical Industries (AEI) in the late 1920s.
In 1894, Swan was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS), and in 1898 he was elected president of the Institution of Electrical Engineers; at the time, Swan was one of its three honorary members, the other two being Lord Kelvin and Henry Wilde. In September 1901, he was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) from Durham University. He also served as president of the Society of Chemical Industry in 1901, and in 1903 he was chosen first president of the Faraday Society. In 1904, he was knighted, awarded the Royal Society’s Hughes Medal, and made an honorary member of the Pharmaceutical Society.
In 1945, the London Power Company commemorated Swan by naming a new 1,554 GRT coastal collier SS Sir Joseph Swan (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
How does a narcissist change a lightbulb? He just holds the lightbulb and waits for the world to start revolving around him.
Second, a Song:
What could be more appropriate to a post about the light bulb than a band named The Electric Light Orchestra performing a song entitled: “The Lights Go Down”.
The Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) are an English rock band formed in Birmingham in 1970 by songwriters-multi-instrumentalists Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood with drummer Bev Bevan. Their music is characterised by a fusion of Beatlesque pop, classical arrangements and futuristic iconography. After Wood’s departure in 1972, Lynne became the band’s sole leader, arranging and producing every album while writing nearly all of their original material. For their initial tenure, Lynne, Bevan and keyboardist Richard Tandy were the group’s only consistent members.
ELO was formed out of Lynne’s and Wood’s desire to create modern rock and pop songs with classical overtones. It derived as an offshoot of Wood’s previous band, the Move, of which Lynne and Bevan were also members. During the 1970s and 1980s, ELO released a string of top 10 albums and singles, including two LPs that reached the top of British charts: the disco-inspired Discovery (1979) and the science-fiction-themed concept album Time (1981). In 1986 Lynne lost interest in the band and disbanded the group. Bevan responded by forming his own band, ELO Part II, which later became the Orchestra. After a brief reunion from 2000 to 2001, ELO remained largely inactive until 2014, when Lynne re-formed the band again with Tandy as Jeff Lynne’s ELO.
During ELO’s original 13-year period of active recording and touring, they sold over 50 million records worldwide, and collected 19 CRIA, 21 RIAA, and 38 BPI awards. From 1972 to 1986, ELO accumulated 27 top 40 songs on the UK Singles Chart, and fifteen top 20 songs on the US Billboard Hot 100. The band also holds the record for having the most Billboard Hot 100 top 40 hits without a number one single of any band in US chart history. In 2017, the key members of ELO (Wood, Lynne, Bevan and Tandy) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 1968, Roy Wood — guitarist, vocalist and songwriter of the Move — had an idea to form a new band that would use violins, cellos, string basses, horns and woodwinds to give their music a classical sound, taking rock music in the direction to “pick up where the Beatles left off”. The orchestral instruments would be the main focus, rather than the guitars. Jeff Lynne, frontman of fellow Birmingham group the Idle Race, was excited by the concept. When Trevor Burton left the Move in February 1969, Lynne was asked by Wood to join, only to say no, as he was still focused on finding success with his band. But in January 1970, when Carl Wayne quit the band, Lynne accepted Wood’s second invitation to join, on the condition that they focus their energy on the new project.
On 12 July 1970, when Wood added multiple cellos to a Lynne-penned song intended to be a Move B-side, the new concept became a reality and “10538 Overture” became the first Electric Light Orchestra song. The original plan was to end The Move following the release of the Looking On album at the end of 1970, crossing over to the new unit in the new year, but to help finance the fledgling band, one further Move album, Message from the Country, was also recorded during the lengthy ELO recordings and released in mid-1971. The resulting debut album The Electric Light Orchestra was released in December 1971. Only the trio of Wood, Lynne and Bevan played on all songs, with Bill Hunt supplying the French Horn parts and Steve Woolam playing violin. It was released in the United States in March 1972 as No Answer. The name was chosen after a record company secretary had tried to ring the UK company to get the name of the album. They were unavailable so she left a note reading “No answer”. “10538 Overture” became a UK top-ten hit. With both band’s albums in the stores simultaneously, the Move and ELO both appeared on television during this period.
ELO’s debut concert took place on 16 April 1972 at the Greyhound Pub in Croydon, Surrey, with a line-up of Wood, Lynne, Bevan, Bill Hunt (keyboards/French horn), Andy Craig (cello), Mike Edwards (cello), Wilfred Gibson (violin), Hugh McDowell (cello), and Richard Tandy (bass). However, this line-up did not last for long. First Craig departed, and then Wood, during the recordings for the band’s second LP. Taking Hunt and McDowell with him, Wood left the band to form Wizzard. Both cited problems with their manager, Don Arden, who Wood felt failed in his role, and an unsatisfactory tour of Italy, where the cellos and violins could not be heard over the electric instruments. However, Arden would manage Wizzard, despite Wood’s negative comments towards Arden. Despite predictions from the music press that the band would fold without Wood, who had been the driving force behind the creation of ELO, Lynne stepped up to lead the band, with Bevan, Edwards, Gibson and Tandy (who had switched from bass to keyboards to replace Hunt) remaining from the previous line-up, and new recruits Mike de Albuquerque and Colin Walker joining the band on bass and cello, respectively.
The new line-up performed at the 1972 Reading Festival on 12 August 1972. Barcus Berry instrument pick-ups, now sported by the band’s string trio, allowed them to have proper amplification on stage for their instruments, which had previously been all but drowned out by the electrified instruments. The band released their second album ELO 2 in early 1973, which produced their second UK top 10 and their first US chart single, an elaborate version of the Chuck Berry classic “Roll Over Beethoven” (which also incorporated the first movement of Beethoven’s own Fifth Symphony). ELO also made their first appearance on American Bandstand. During the recording of the third album, Gibson was let go after a dispute over money, Mik Kaminski joined as violinist, and Walker left since touring was keeping him away from his family too much. Remaining cellist Edwards finished the cello parts for the album. The resulting album, On the Third Day, was released in late 1973, with the American version featuring the popular single “Showdown”. After leaving Wizzard, Hugh McDowell returned as the group’s second cellist, also in late 1973, in time to appear on the On the Third Day cover in some regions, despite not having played on the album.
For the band’s fourth album, Eldorado, a concept album about a daydreamer, Lynne stopped multi-tracking strings and hired Louis Clark as string arranger with an orchestra and choir. The first single off the album, “Can’t Get It Out of My Head”, became their first US top 10 hit, and Eldorado, A Symphony became ELO’s first gold album. Mike de Albuquerque departed the band during the recording sessions as he wished to spend more time with his family, and consequently much of the bass on the album was performed by Lynne.
Following the release of Eldorado, Kelly Groucutt was recruited as bassist and in early 1975, Melvyn Gale replaced Edwards on cello. The line-up stabilised as the band took to a decidedly more accessible sound. ELO had become successful in the US at this point and the group was a star attraction on the stadium and arena circuit, and regularly appeared on The Midnight Special more than any other band in that show’s history with four appearances (in 1973, 1975, 1976 and 1977).
Face the Music was released in 1975, producing the hit singles “Evil Woman”, their third UK top 10, and “Strange Magic”. The opening instrumental “Fire on High”, with its mix of strings and acoustic guitars, saw heavy exposure as the theme music for the American television programme CBS Sports Spectacular in the mid-1970s. The group toured extensively from 3 February to 13 April 1976, playing 68 shows in 76 days in the US.
Their sixth album, the platinum selling A New World Record, became their first UK top 10 album when it was released in 1976. It contained the hit singles “Livin’ Thing”, “Telephone Line”, “Rockaria!” and “Do Ya”, the last a re-recording of a Move song recorded for that group’s final single. The band toured in support in the US only from September 1976 to April 1977 with a break in December, then an American Music Awards show appearance on 31 January 1977, plus a one-off gig in San Diego in August 1977. Casey Kasem said that the Electric Light Orchestra is the “World’s first touring rock ‘n’ roll chamber group” before he played “Livin’ Thing” at #28.
A New World Record was followed by a multi-platinum selling album, the double-LP Out of the Blue, in 1977. Out of the Blue featured the singles “Turn to Stone”, “Sweet Talkin’ Woman”, “Mr. Blue Sky”, and “Wild West Hero”, each becoming a hit in the United Kingdom. The band then set out on a nine-month, 92-date world tour, with an enormous set and a hugely expensive space ship stage with fog machines and a laser display. In the United States the concerts were billed as The Big Night and were their largest to date, with 62,000 people seeing them at Cleveland Stadium. The Big Night went on to become the highest-grossing live concert tour in music history up to that point (1978). The band played at London’s Wembley Arena for eight straight sold-out nights during the tour, another record at that time.
In 1979, the multi-platinum album Discovery was released, reaching number one on the UK Albums Chart. Although the biggest hit on the album (and ELO’s biggest hit overall) was the rock song “Don’t Bring Me Down”, the album was noted for its heavy disco influence. Discovery also produced the hits “Shine a Little Love”, their first and only No. 1 hit from 1972 to the present with any of the four major or minor US singles charts on Radio & Records (R&R), “Last Train to London”, “Confusion” and “The Diary of Horace Wimp”. Another song, “Midnight Blue”, was released as a single in southeast Asia. The band recorded promotional videos for all the songs on the album.
By the end of 1979, ELO had reached the peak of their stardom, selling millions of albums and singles, and even inspiring a parody/tribute song on the Randy Newman album Born Again, titled “The Story of a Rock and Roll Band”. During 1979, Jeff Lynne also turned down an invitation for ELO to headline the August 1979 Knebworth Festival concerts. That allowed Led Zeppelin the chance to headline instead.
In 1980, Jeff Lynne was asked to write for the soundtrack of the musical film Xanadu and provided half of the songs, with the other half written by John Farrar and performed by the film’s star Olivia Newton-John. The film performed poorly at the box office, but the soundtrack did exceptionally well, eventually going double platinum. The album spawned hit singles from both Newton-John (“Magic”, a No. 1 hit in the United States, and “Suddenly” with Cliff Richard) and ELO (“I’m Alive”, which went gold, “All Over the World” and “Don’t Walk Away”). The title track, performed by both Newton-John and ELO, is ELO’s only song to top the singles chart in the United Kingdom. More than a quarter of a century later, Xanadu, a Broadway musical based on the film, opened on 10 July 2007 at the Helen Hayes Theatre to uniformly good reviews. It received four Tony Award nominations. The musical received its UK premiere in London in October 2015. Casey Kasem called The Electric Light Orchestra a “seven-man supergroup” and “amazing” for hitting the top 40 a remarkable six times in a one-year period from August 1979 to August 1980 before playing “All Over the World” at #23.
In 1981, ELO’s sound changed again with the science fiction concept album Time, a throwback to earlier, more progressive rock albums like Eldorado. With the string section now departed, synthesisers took a dominating role, as was the trend in the larger music scene of the time; although studio strings were present on some of the tracks conducted by Rainer Pietsch, the overall soundscape had a more electronic feel in keeping with the futuristic nature of the album. Time topped the UK charts for two weeks and was the last ELO studio album to be certified platinum in the United Kingdom until Alone in the Universe in 2015. Singles from the album included “Hold On Tight”, “Twilight”, “The Way Life’s Meant to Be”, “Here Is the News” and “Ticket to the Moon”. However, the release of the single for “Rain Is Falling” in 1982 was the band’s first single in the US to fail to reach the Billboard Top 200 since 1975, and the release of “The Way Life’s Meant to Be” similarly was their first single in the UK to fail to chart since 1976. The band embarked on their last world tour to promote the LP. For the tour, Kaminski returned to the line-up on violin, whilst Louis Clark (synthesizers) and Dave Morgan (guitar, keyboards, synthesizers, vocals) also joined the on stage lineup. Clark had previously handled string arrangements for the band.
According to music journalist Simon Price, ELO was “arguably the most uncool, even defiantly anti-cool, of the lot and have been the slowest to be rehabilitated since … They’ve been sampled by dozens upon dozens of acts, from Company Flow to the Pussycat Dolls, if you go looking. Every now and then in my journalistic career, it’s been possible to coax a contemporary band to admit to an ELO influence; the Flaming Lips and Super Furry Animals being two examples. But the band with arguably, the greatest amount of ELO DNA are outside the rock genre altogether: Daft Punk.”
In November 2016, Jeff Lynne’s ELO won Band of the Year at the Classic Rock Roll of Honour Awards. In October 2016, ELO were nominated for the 2017 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the first time. It was the first time the Hall had announced in advance the members of bands who would be inducted; the members of ELO listed were Jeff Lynne, Roy Wood, Bev Bevan and Richard Tandy. On 20 December 2016, it was announced ELO had been elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2017 (per Wikipedia).
Here is ELO performing “The Lights Go Down” set to images of the band by Johnny Johansen. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“We forget just how painfully dim the world was before electricity. A candle, a good candle, provides barely a hundredth of the illumination of a single 100 watt light bulb.” – Bill Bryson
Further to the Donut Smile, Ian Roote of North Vancouver, BC, Canada writes:
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky