In today’s blog post, we will take a trip back in time to the top 5 big moments in lighting history and how each one has revolutionised the way that we light our offices and homes each day.

1.Light By Fire

caveman with a torch and a club on a white background

Way back to 400,000 BC, light years before light bulbs, humans made fire to provide light in the dark. The first portable light would have been a torch – but not as we know a torch today – this would have consisted of a bunch of sticks with fire at the other end. The very first record of this portable light recorded was in China, where light was used at night time to enable people to scare away any predators. Cavemen also used torches so that they could navigate in the dark.


2. The Invention of the Light Bulb (1879)

Contrary to belief, the original inventor of the electric light bulb was not Thomas Edison, it was actually Englishman Sir Joseph Swann. Edison patented his bulb in 1879 but this was merely improved on a design which Swann had patented 10 years previous. A law battle commenced and the British court ruled against Edison – Edison then had to make Swann his partner as a form of punishment.

Inventor Swann learnt that once electrical current flows through the bulb’s filament, the filament warms up and produces light. The glass bulb housing acts as a vacuum – so the filament doesn’t get oxidised, allowing the glow to last longer. Swann’s invention consisted of carbonised paper filament, but the poor quality of the vacuum in the bulb unfortunately caused the carbon paper disintegrate very quickly – resulting in the bulb glowing for just 13 hours! Edison and his team rigorously tested vacuum pumps and he made filament from bamboo which lasted up to an incredible 1,200 hours.


3.Introducing Fluorescent Tubes (1901)

Peter Cooper Hewitt fluorescent lamps

American electrical engineer and inventor Peter Cooper Hewitt and German physicist Leo Arons developed the first mercury vapour lamps in 1901. The gas-charged lamp used mercury vapour by passing current through liquid mercury. These very first lamps had to be tilted in order for the light to turn on. The solution to the frustrating tilting was later reconciled by Hewitt developing an electric ballast. At the time, the efficiency was greater than the incandescent light bulbs that Swann and Edison had worked on but the light that was emitted from the tubes were green and blue colours – not ideal at all! These tubes were limited to being used in limited professional fields such as photography.

Fast forward 30 years and the fluorescent tube evolved – a phosphor coating was added to the inside of the tube which provided a more pleasing light output when it absorbed the ultraviolet light from the mercury.


4. The First LED Lamp (1994)

Shuji Nakamura invented the first LED lamp

Thirty years later, Japanese-born, American electronic engineer and inventor, Shuji Nakamura, and his team invented the first ever blue LED light. Creating white light for lighting purposes is made up of a combination of blue, red and green lights. Blue LEDs proved to be more difficult to create than red and green diodes, so Nakamura set himself the challenge. Nakamura and his team successfully created the blue LED by using semiconductor gallium nitride in 1994.  This invention was a major breakthrough in lighting technology as the invention has since enabled bright and energy-saving lighting to be used across the globe. More recently, in 2014, Nakamura and his team picked up the Physics Nobel Prize for the invention of the blue LED.


5.Li-Fi Lighting (2011 – onwards)

Wifi technology

‘Li-Fi’ short for ‘Light Fidelity’ is a wireless, visible light communication system which runs at super fast speeds to deliver light. Li-Fi was invented in 2011 by Edinburgh University Professor, Harald Haas, who envisioned that light bulbs could act as wireless routers. Li-Fi enables LED lights to transfer data, boasting speeds of up to 224Gb a second! When compared to Wi-Fi, which transmits data using radio waves, Li-Fi transmits via visible light. More impressively, Li-Fi is more secure than Wi-Fi as it has a shorter range, and is 100 times faster.

Li-Fi technology is currently being trialled by airlines, testing the performance of in-flight connectivity – for example streaming high-definition films within a matter of seconds.