That’s a photograph? It looks like they took a picture of the lab, then drew in all the people..


A DRAMATIC moment in the history of modern illuminating science is pictured in the photograph below, showing Thomas A. Edison and his assistants testing the first incandescent lamp bulb at Menlo Park, N. J., on October 19, 1879. The lamp burned continuously for 40 hours before the filament parted. Its life was less than one- tenth that of modern bulbs whose filaments of special alloys burn in an atmosphere of inert gases instead of in a vacuum, as in the original lamp.

Edison is shown in the foreground driving the last of the gases from the bulb with with a battery. The picture was taken in Edison’s old laboratory.

  1. Firebrand38 says: January 13, 20102:32 pm

    It’s described as a drawing elsewhere. Keep in mind the author says “with with a battery”. Apart from the two “withs” Edison is using a borrowed vacuum pump and not a “battery”.

    Here Edison is reenacting the moment for a commemoration http://americanhistory….

  2. jayessell says: January 13, 20105:46 pm

    Soon Incandescent lamps will be outlawed!

    CFLs will follow when LEDs become affordable.

  3. Firebrand38 says: January 13, 20106:09 pm

    jayessell: Yeah, outlaw the incandescent bulb before we have a way of disposing of the CFLs.

  4. Nick Moffitt says: January 13, 20108:06 pm

    Don’t be surprised at the appearance of the image. If you look at a lot of newspaper “photos” from the turn of the century, they all seem heavily faked or touched up. I always suspected that this was because of the finnicky nature of early photogravure processes, and something that was done away with once direct-to-plate became more practical.

    There’s a neat timeline of the history of photogravure at http://www.photogravure…

  5. mike says: January 13, 20108:23 pm

    You can easily dispose of the CFL in plastic bags before putting them in a landfill.
    If only we had some sort of renewable, recyclable and biodegradable bagging system to replace those evil plastic bags… perhaps something from trees.

  6. Firebrand38 says: January 13, 20108:33 pm

    mike: That ignores the mercury that needs recycling. It may still be legal but it isn’t the smartest thing to do in the world http://www.npr.org/temp… And throwing out glass tubes containing mercury in paper bags? Bravo!

  7. Firebrand38 says: January 13, 20109:21 pm

    Nick Moffitt: Too bad this article is from 1929. There is no evidence that Edison had a photographer standing by on 19 October 1879. I’ve never seen a historical print of this photo in any archive anywhere. Granted that doesn’t “disprove” anything, but if this is a famous photograph you’d think it would be easy to find. Simply, it looks like a drawing because it is a drawing.

  8. katey says: January 13, 20109:43 pm

    Maybe it’s a photograph of a drawing?

  9. Toronto says: January 14, 201012:19 am

    CFL bulbs contain mercury, it’s true. So does coal mined in most places.

    If you burn coal to make electricity, you put more Hg into the environment using incandescent bulbs than you do with CFLs – and most of that goes into the atmosphere instead of landfills, so it’s spread all over (like my lungs.)

    Sure, you may live in a place that uses very little coal to make power, like I do, but coal doesn’t discriminate.

    (And yes, I had a vial of collected mercury as a kid, and helped a fellow teen make a mercury lamp in highschool that was insanely dangerous on many levels. That was just what my generation did.)

  10. Firebrand38 says: January 14, 20101:06 am

    Toronto: That’s a non-argument since you don’t list how much mercury coal fired generators add to the atmosphere (like at this link) much less how much mercury is inadvertently added to things like (Oh, I dunno) groundwater after leaching through landfills containing broken CFLs leaking metallic mercury. Add to that alternatives to coal for power generation and there you have it.

    Yeah, I had a bottle of mercury that I used to “shine up” quarters in but it’s hard to be flippant when I’m also of the generation that remembers Minamata disease

  11. Toronto says: January 14, 20101:47 am

    Firebrand38 – I’m of the generation of the Minamata kids (and the less well reported Crees), and the Thalidomide kids, and had air raid drills and Bert the Turtle. I wasn’t being flippant, I was being realistic. Didn’t mean to offend, however.

    The groundwater argument is a valid one, and one that feeds another of my pet dreams – more efficient “landfill mining.” I remember being shocked that, in the 1970s at least, color TVs were spreading the element Ytterbium (or was it Yttrium) in a very thin layer over the entire planet, instead of leaving it concentrated in a couple of mines in Scandinavia. Just didn’t seem right. We need to recover rare elements from our household items – especially electronics. But most cities put up roadblocks to even “safely” and legally disposing of the very items that are likely to be the most valuable to recycle completely.

  12. Firebrand38 says: January 14, 20101:41 pm

    Toronto: No offense. It’s just that whenever this subject comes up someone always feels obligated to share that they played with mercury as a kid. All in all fluorescent lights are the way to go, but there needs to be a better infrastructure nationwide in order to dispose of them. They may “only” contain 4 milligrams of mercury http://www.energystar.g… but when you’re talking about accumulating them in landfills even with Mike’s clever use of paper bags (he has to be a speech writer for Sarah Palin) it adds up. I agree there needs to be less of a hassle on the way to recovering stuff from electronics and such.

  13. jayessell says: January 14, 20101:54 pm


    YBa2Cu3O7-d !!!

    One of the miracles promised by nanotechnology is atom sorting recycling.
    No telling if it would ever be practical.

    (Dang! This commenting could use a ‘preview’!)

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