JF Ptak Science Books Post 272
As ranging and seemingly gawking as these titles might seem today (W.H. Stone's "The Electric Light" in January 1879 and "The Collapse of the Electric Light" in June 1879 and published in the London's Popular Science Review), they were somewhat, limitedly, correct. It really wasn't until several months later in that same year that Edison got the design of the light bulb more correct, following his developments of a smaller carbonized filament in a better globe vacuum and utilizing a lower current of electricity--this produced a much more long lasting light, far surpassing his 13-15 hours filament from 1876, and making the electric light a definite economic property. Naturally there was much more to be done, like establish the entire backbone and network of an electrical grid, from improving the generating dynamos to the creation and installation of on-off switches, but that was all doable. The modern power grid was inaugurated on September 4, 1882, when the first commercial power station, located on Pearl Street. serviced about a square mile of lower Manhattan. Six years earlier, in 1876 this prospect seemed futuristic, and the prospect for Edison's light itself looked pretty dim.
Stone wrote "It is hardly a matter of surprise that the exaggerated expectations formed a few months ago to the illuminating power of electricity should have been succeeded by a reaction, and that its practical value, from an estimate that was clearly excessive, should have fallen inn public opinion to what is probably an equally unjust depreciation....causing panic-like depreciation in the stocks of gas companies..."
He continues to wail away at Edison, who was just weeks away from solving the riddle of mass electrical illumination: "Much of the contrivance [light bulb] is of great ingenuity, and evidences considerable mechanical skill. But all competent authorities are agreed in considering that it in no way supercedes existing methods [gas lighting] or that in any sense fulfills the revolutionary prognostics freely made in its favor...."
Oh dear. I can't find anything that Stone wrote about the new Edison developments over the coming year. The man got some of his assessment correct, but he got the overall appreciation patently incorrect, and with terrifically bad timing, calling the day false just minutes before the dawn.
Edison was hardly alone in this pursuit even in 1876, the year of great discovery. It was a crowded house. And even a quick consideration shows how many others there were preceding Edison in this pursuit:Humphrey Davy, the great English chemist and all-around smart-guy, invented the firs sort of electric light in 1809. It was quite simple but the idea was definitely there--he produced the first arc light by passing an electric charge through a charcoal strip causing its charged carbon to glow and emit light. Eleven years later, in 1820, Warren de la Rue made improvements upon this idea and employed platinum rather than carbon, producing a literally and figuratively rich glow. The electrical revolution waited for its Edison in spite of earlier creations of practical light bulbs by James B. Lindsay (1935), Edward Shepard (1850) and Henricg Globel (1854, and perhaps the most significant of the last three). There was really an incredible amount of work being done between 1850-1880, but it really was Edison who pulled it al together--and even then, when he perfected his light bulb, it was based on the 1875 patent he purchased from inventors, Henry Woodward and Matthew Evans, his filament burning bright in an oxygenless glass whose basis was derived from the work of Herman Sprengel who had invented the mercury vacuum pump capable of producing this vacuum.
And then the real industrial revolution could get underway.
Stone finishes the second article with this I'm-sitting-on-a-tree-limb-way-up-high-and-cutting-through-it-with-an-antique-saw-between-me-and-the-tree sensibility of terrifically impending high embarrassment:
"...the electric light, while invaluable for exceptional cases, such as for lighthouses, military telegraphy and exploration...or even for stage effects and festive occasions, is neither so pleasant, so safe, so steady, so simple, or so manageable as the better forms of ordinary gas-lighting now universally adopted", and thus putting his own gas lighting service back just as the metropolitan power station "on" switch gets thrown. (I did find a few other articles by the same author: one in the Popular Science Review for 1881 on "The Determination of Musical Pitch" and another in Nature for 1883, writing on" Speaking, Singing and Stammering". Not much said about Edison, there.)