portrait of Joseoph Swan

portrait of Thomas Edison

Joseph Swan and Thomas Edison
Comparison of achievements

Swan v Edison

For many years history told us that the Electric light bulb, as we know it, was invented by Thomas Edison, and this was generally proposed in the UK also, however it is generally recognised now that Swan was the inventor of the modern incandescent light bulb.

The first light obtained through the use of electricity was the arc light invented in 1800 by Humphrey Davy an English Scientist. The arc light however was inconsistent in intensity and not practical enough for most uses. In 1850 Swan began working on the production of a more practical light. He demonstrated a device using a partial vacuum and a carbon filament in 1860 and obtained a UK patent. By 1878 Swan had improved the design with a better vacuum and carbonised thread as a filament. The improved lamp was first demonstrated in 1878 and was granted a U.K. Patent. In 1880 Both Swan and Edison obtained U.S. Patents. It should however be noted that the patent granted to Edison was invalidated by the US patents office in June 1883. Edison attempted to take Swan to court in the UK for patent infringement. Edison lost and as part of the settlement Swan was made a partner in Edison's British electric works. The company, 'The Edison and Swan United Electric Company' was later known as Ediswan.

Both Swan and Edison exhibited at the Paris exhibition of 1881, but it was Swan who was honoured by the French President with the 'Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur.'

Edison's greatest achievement in the field was the development of a sufficiently robust power supply for the lighting to be usable on a town sized scale. As a founder of General Electric he will be remembered for his part in the development of electric lighting.