Incandescent Bulbs, 135 Years Ago And Today

Incandescent Bulbs, 135 Years Ago And Today

On January 27, 1880, Thomas Edison was awarded a patent for an incandescent lamp. It was still two years before his first power grid would flicker to life in NYC, and Edison was living on the precipice of a new age. Oh, how things have changed.

United States patent no. 223,898 described an innovation whose object “is to produce electric lamps giving light by incandescence, which lamps shall have high resistance, so as to allow of the practical subdivision of the electric light,” wrote Edison by way of introduction. The lamp would quickly be replaced by cheaper and brighter technology, but it’s historic nonetheless — this was a definitive moment in the electrification of the world.

Henry Ford holding a light bulb and and Thomas Edison holding an early version of his own. AP Photo.

These days, incandescent bulbs are on their way out, with countries all over the world instituting programs to phase them out, along with many states in the US, too. Getting rid of billions of incandescent bulbs will create huge amounts of filament-y trash, and some artists are actually making art out of it. Take the artists Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett, who’ve collected thousands of old incandescents and pieced them together to create huge, bubbly sculptures.

Take this piece that premiered in Singapore in 2014. It was crafted out of thousands of old bulbs, yellowed and crumbling, which the duo piece together into a “cloud” that flickered when visitors pulled the switches:

Picture: Choo Yut Shing/Flickr

Or the piece New Moon, or which Brown uploaded a new video this week. It took 5,500 incandescent lightbulbs to create this imperfect sphere of a sculpture, and inside it, a panel of working bulbs is controlled by a steel merry-go-round at its base. Visitors can control the waxing and the waning by turning the mechanism themselves.

You can even donate your old incandescents to the pair.

Edison couldn’t have imagined the technological progress that his invention brought about, and he probably didn’t imagine the waning of his own inventions either. I wonder whether he would have loved the sight of art made out of his outmoded technology, or hated it?