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(1) Electric Lamps. Letters Patent for an Invention of "IMPROVEMENTS IN ELECTRIC LAMPS, AND IN THE MATERIALS EMPLOYED IN THEIR CONSTRUCTION." [British Patent] No. 4933. + (2) Electric Lighting by Incandescence (Royal Institution of Great Britain. Weekly Evening Meeting, Friday, March 10, 1882. (Offprint). (3) Original handwritten letter, signed "J.W. Swan", to "G.S. Bruce Esquire", dated "June 8/85".
[London, Eyre and Spottiswoode], 1880, 27th November + 1882 + 1885 (1): 8vo. Unbound. With a recent, discreete paper spine. A few smaller tears to extremities. 4 pp. + 1 plate (showing electric light bulbs].(2): 8vo. Original self-wrappers. Stitched at spine. Near mint.(3): 4 pages 8vo.. Scarce original printed patent for the seminal invention that is the incandescent light bulb. Though usually erroneously ascribed to Thomas Edison, it was in fact Joseph Swan who invented the light bulb and ended the dark ages. - Here sold together with the extremely scarce offprint of Swan's 1882 speech on his seminal invention as well as a highly important and interesting autograph letter on the same subject, namely "the new filament or "Artificial Silk" as I have been calling it", in which Swan also confirms his priority in invention and warns against letting the withsent speciman fall into the hands of lamp makers. Swan first publicly demonstrated his incandescent carbon lamp at a lecture for the Newcastle upon Tyne Chemical Society on December 18th 1878. However, after burning with a bright light for some minutes in his laboratory, the lamp broke down due to excessive current. By 1879 Swan had solved the problem of incandescent electric lighting by means of a vacuum lamp and he publicly demonstrated a working lamp to a larger audience. He was not completely satisfied, however, as there were still some fundamental problems attached to it that would make it impossible to consider the invention completed. By 1880, however, he had finally reached perfection. The striking improvements consisted in the carbonised paper filaments being discarded in favour of "parchmentised" cotton thread. Finally, he deemed his milestone invention worthy of filing a patent, and on that memorable day of November 27th 1880, he was granted that most important British Patent No. 4933, "Electric Lamps", marking man's final conquest of darkness. "My invention relates to electric lamps in which is produced by passing an electric current through a conductor of carbon so as to render it incandescent, said carbon conductor being enclosed in an air tight and vacuous or partially vacuous glass vessel.It is well known that the practical efficiency of the kind of electric lamp above described has hitherto been impaired by the want of homogeneity and compactness in the carbon conductors, and by the imperfection of the contact betwixt it and the metallic conductors which convey the electric current to it. I have found that an exceedingly solid, homogenous, and elastic form of carbon, peculiarly adapted for the formation of arches, spirals, or other forms of conductor for electric lamps, can be produced from cotton thread which has been subjected to the action of sulpuric acid of such strength as to cause a similar kind of change to take place in the thread to that which takes place in the bibulous paper in the well known process of making vegetable parchment." (Lines 6-19 in the present patent).From the time of his patent, Swan began installing light bulbs in homes and landmarks in England. His house, Underhill on Kells Lane in Low Fell, Gateshead, was the world's first to have working light bulbs installed. In 1881 he founded his own company, The Swan Electric Light Company and began commercial production of his light bulb.The invention of the light bulb is a turning point in the history of mankind, like the wheel or the invention of the printing press. As McLuhan put it in his groundbreaking main work, "a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence." (p. 8). It does not have content in itself, as e.g. a newspaper, but it is a medium with a social effect strong enough to change the way we think, act, and behave. A light bulb enables people to create spaces during nighttime that would otherwise be enveloped by darkness. Electric light is "pure information" - a medium without a message. "Whether the light is being used for brain surgery or night baseball is a matter of indifference." Both activities, he explains are in some way the content of electric light, as they could not exist without the light. The medium that is electric light shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action. The question of who the actual inventor of the light bulb was has been greatly debated ever since those crucial years of 1879-80. Working on the invention at about the same time as Swan, but independently, was Thomas Edison. In America, Edison had been working on copies of Swan's original light bulb. Though Swan had beaten him to this goal, Edison obtained patents (November 1879) for a fairly direct copy of the Swan light, and started an advertising campaign that claimed that he was the real inventor. Swan, who was less interested in making money from the invention, but who had still established the first commercial manufacture of incandescent light bulbs, agreed that Edison could sell the lights in America while he retained the rights in Britain. They soon agreed, however, to work together.Following his successful laboratory experiments in 1878, Swan let two years pass before taking steps to patent his invention. It might be difficult to understand why Swan did not make more haste and let Edison beat him to it, but the answer seems to be fairly clear: "the principle of the carbon lamp had long been known. The fact that he had made this principle workable, was not in Swan's opinion capable of sustaining a patent." (The Pageant of the Lamp, p. 28). The patent that he saw fit to take out was that for the step in the process which made the light bulb perfectly functional and ready for commercial launch - only then did it make sense to take out the patent. In principle, Edison's earlier patent contains nothing new. Only with the patent by Swan, the true inventor of the light bulb, is the incandescent light bulb presented for the first time in it fully functioning form. Edison and Swan, both practical men, soon agreed to more or less simultaneous discovery of the light bulb, and they decided to cooperate. "As it was, the two inventors took the sensible view. Litigation would only have squandered their energies and resources; and in 1881 they wisely combined forces, their respective English companies being merged into the Edison & Swan United Electric Light Company Limited." (The Pageant of the Lamp, p. 29). "When the inventors united in a combination which gave them a virtual monopoly, it was Swan's parchmentised cellulose which glowed in the fine lamps of Edison and Swan." (The Pageant of the Lamp, p. 31).The Savoy in London, was the first public building in the world lit entirely by electricity. Swan supplied about 1,200 incandescent lamps, powered by an 88.3 kW (120hp) generator on open land near the theatre. The builder of the Savoy, Richard D'Oyly Carte, explained why he had introduced Swan's electric light: "The greatest drawbacks to the enjoyment of the theatrical performances are, undoubtedly, the foul air and heat which pervade all theatres. As everyone knows, each gas-burner consumes as much oxygen as many people, and causes great heat beside. The incandescent lamps consume no oxygen, and cause no perceptible heat."[15] The first generator proved too small to power the whole building, and though the entire front-of-house was electrically lit, the stage was lit by gas until 28 December 1881. At that performance, Carte stepped onstage and broke a glowing lightbulb before the audience to demonstrate the safety of Swan's new technology.THE INCLUDED LETTER reads: "I herewith send a specimen of the new filament or "Artificial Silk" as I have been calling it. It is as you are probably aware produced on the same principle as silk i.e. from a liquid which solidifies immediately after emission from aperture. Made thick it is very like silk-worm gut -- made thinner it is like hair. Very superior carbon filaments can be produced from it. I do not wish any of it to go into the hands of lamp makers. Therefore please return the specimen together with the lamp to the stand at the EXn (i.e. exhibition). I have told Howard Swan who has charge of my stand at the Exhn to let you have the Miner's Safety Lamp. I was the first to propose this application of the incandescent lamp & the first to actually make such a lamp. Very truly yours, J.W. Swan."
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Last Found On: 2015-01-28           Check availability:      Antikvariat    

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