The Historical Text Archive: Electronic History Resources, online since 1990 Bringing you digitized history, primary and secondary sources


You walk into a room and flick on the light switch and bang just like that you have light.

But what is actually happening when you turn the switch on, and who is responsible for the light as we know it?

The electric light as we know it comes from a long line of alternative lighting. Basically man used what ever they had at their disposal to create light. Oil based light goes back to 70,000 BC. People would take bowl or gourd shaped rocks and fill them with moss or reeds that were soaked in animal fat. Although very primitive by today’s standards these rock lanterns we a huge step forward. The rock lanterns allowed people to travel more easily at night and also light the inside of there dwelling.

As the centuries passed the technology behind lighting improved. In the mid 18 Th century a European scientist named Ami Argand invented the first documented oil lamp. This oil lamp was fuel by a mixture of olive oil and whale oil. The design was simple with a base for the oil with a wick coming out of it. There were glass panes attached to the base and joined at the top. The glass panes were a precursor to the modern day lantern.

The huge leap came when electric light was invented. Although it is commonly believed Thomas Edison was the inventor of the electric light it was actually an Englishman name Humphrey Davy. Davy invented a carbon arc lamp early in 1801. This was followed by Becquerel of France who set the foundation for the modern florescent light.

It was not until the 1870’s that Thomas Edison invented the incandescent electric light. The reason people think it was Edison who first designed the light is because he was the first one to produce the light for the masses.

Next time to you flip that switch remember lighting has a long an interesting history.