Few inventions in history have had as many inventors as the light bulb that have taken it from an almost impossibly impractical and imperceptible glow of platinum to the multi-purpose shatterproof bulbs we know today.
One of the most unique aspects of the light bulb is that the person most credited for its invention was born 12 years after James Bowman Lindsay first demonstrated its potential in 1835, and Thomas Edison’s wars in the courts and the court of public opinion over the light bulb have continued to be controversial to this day.
Most notably, the question of who invented the modern light bulb had, for several years in the late 19th century, two separate answers depending on which country you lived in.
In the United States, the answer was Mr Edison, who had produced a patent so broad in its scope that almost no other type of incandescent light bulb could be made that would not infringe upon it.
However, in the United Kingdom, Joseph Swan was the first to develop a successful working light bulb as early as 1860, and a far more effective and viable version in 1875, getting a patent for the latter in 1879 and being the first to light rooms and public areas using electric light.
Once both inventors started to commercialise their inventions, however, something had to give, and Mr Swan was the first to sue, winning the case in the British courts and forcing a merger between the two companies.
Mr Edison did not like this and counter-sued, claiming that Mr Swan had infringed on his patent in a move that ultimately proved unwise, given that there was substantial evidence that the latter had developed ideas beforehand that would have not only led to expensive litigation but potentially risked the former’s lucrative patent.
Ultimately, Mr Edison relented, the two companies merged and the first modern light bulb powerhouse was born.