Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 143,348 pages of information and 230,027 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Electric Lighting

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1806 Humphry Davy first demonstrated an arc lamp but the blinding light was impractical and could not be powered for more than a few minutes.

1850 Allman's "voltaic light" was demonstrated at the Polytechnic Institution achieving steady light for several hours[1]

c.1852 Electric light used at the works of Westminster Bridge[2]

1876 Pavel Yablochkov invented an arc lamp that avoided the mechanical complexity of competing lights that required a regulator to manage the arc. He went to Paris the same year where he built an industrial sample of the "electric candle" and patented it.

1877 Yablochkov developed a complete system of electric lighting powered by a direct current dynamo to the design of Zenobe Gramme fitted with an inverter to supply single-phase alternating current. The first public use of the Yablochkov system was in October 1877 at Halle Marengo of the Magasins du Louvre in Paris, which was lit by 6 arc lights[3].

1878 Although arc lamps were best suited to large spaces, these lamps were installed at Cragside in Northumberland, the home of William Armstrong, powered by his own hydro-electric plant; possibly the first house to be lit by electricity.

1878 Demonstration of electric lighting using arc lights on the Royal Exchange in London, powered by a Bunsen battery supplied by Messrs W. Kerr and Sons[4].

1878 Electric lighting was used for football matched in Glasgow and Birmingham, on York railway station and in railway company works[5]

1878 Joseph Swan, an inventor from Sunderland, was the first to develop a practical electric incandescent lamp that could run for hours, which he demonstrated in December. Swan used a carbon fibre filament derived from cotton.

1878 The markets committee of the Corporation of London organised the lighting of Billingsgate Market and other places using Jablochoff (sic) arc lamps (or "candles") fed by a Gramme generator[6]. The Victoria Embankment (near Westminster Bridge), lit by gas, was illuminated with Jablochkoff (Yablochkov) Candle arc lights alternating with the original gas standards to show the difference. These were suppled from Gramme generators driven by steam engines made by Ransomes, Sims and Head of Ipswich[7]

1878 Rapieff's system of Electric Lighting was introduced into England by E. J. Reed, under the direction of R. Applegarth.[8]

1878 Several different types of electric light available including the Siemens, Serrin, Jablochkoff, Werdermann, Rapieff, Wallace, Sawyer, Edison[9]

1879 Swan demonstrated his lamps at a public lecture. He lit his own house at Lower Fell in Northumberland.

1879 Swan supplied lamps for Mosely Street in Newcastle, the first electrically lit street.

1879 Thomas Edison demonstrated his own design of incandescent lamp in the USA.

1880 After further development, Swan demonstrated a technically and commercially viable lamp, with a filament of carbonized thread, at a public lecture in October 1880. A company (Benwell Lamps?) was set up to produce the lamps.

1881 Swan demonstrated his electric lighting system to a meeting of the Glasgow Philosophical Society, attended by many prominent people. His factory in Newcastle was powered by a gas engine, which was the type of system he envisaged could be used in large houses for illumination[10].

c.1881 The Pilsen lamp was developed by two Austrian engineers, Ludwig Piette and Franz Krizik, and was marketed in Britain by Henry F. Joel. It had a complex regulating mechanism which used an iron core between two solenoids. The lamp was quite extensively used, and won a Gold Medal at the Paris Electrical Exhibition of 1881[11]

1881 Incandescent lamps by Swan and arc lamps by Siemens were installed in Godalming (see First public electricity supply in the world)

1882 12 January: Demonstration of Edison's electric lighting at 57 High Holborn, London - see Edison's first public electricity generation station. Two engines were used to drive dynamos - one a Porter-Allen engine, the other an Armington and Sims engine[12].

1882 Swan's first company was superseded by a larger company, Swan United Electric Light Co.

Edison successfully registered patents and sued Swan but failed in his action, so then went into partnership with him.

1882 The Pilsen Electric Light could be seen in operation at High Holborn and Seven Sisters Road, London; estimates could be obtained from Pilsen-Joel and General Electric Light Co Ltd, Telegraph St, London EC[13].

1883 The Edison and Swan United Electric Light Co was formed, making light bulbs which were cheaper and lasted longer than any others. Edison's vision of centralised electricity supply stations was paramount to his later success.

1884 Gas lighting was re-established on the Victoria Embankment as electricity was not competitive.

1886 Armstrong had a Gilkes turbine and Crompton generator installed in the Burnfoot Power House to provide more power at Cragside. 45 incandescent lamps were installed of the Swan design[14]

Throughout rest of the 19th century electricity remained extremely expensive leaving gas (see Gas Lighting) as the popular choice for most middle-class households.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Times, Nov 04, 1850
  2. The Times, Dec 22, 1877
  3. Wikipedia [1]
  4. The Times, May 07, 1878
  5. The Newcastle Courant, November 1, 1878
  6. The Times, Nov 16, 1878
  7. Wikipedia [2]
  8. Telegraphic Journal of the 1st November, 1878
  9. The Newcastle Courant, December 6, 1878
  10. The Newcastle Courant Friday, March 18, 1881
  11. IET Arc lamp exhibition [3]
  12. Edison: His Life and Inventions, By Frank Lewis Dyer, Thomas Commerford Martin
  13. The Standard, September 27, 1882
  14. Cragside [4]
  • History of Electric Lighting [5]
  • Biography of Joseph Swan, ODNB [6]