Now, let me just set one thing straight. Nikola Tesla is my boy.
But when the Txchnologist asked me to draw a comic about Thomas Edison’s contribution to the quest for electric lighting, how could I resist? See, Friday, October 21st was the 132nd anniversary of the Edison light bulb, and while Humpry Davy may have made the first electric lamp, but Edison made it practical. A veritable “shoulders of giants” story of innovation and serendipity.
Since I was strapped for space and time ( I actually drew this and last Friday’s comic in the same night. Good times!) I didn’t really get a chance to probe the underlying wonder of inadvertent discovery. Edison hit dead end after dead end trying to improve Joseph Swan’s variation of the light bulb, and he was sure that a platinum filament was the way to go. This was only after spending weeks trying ever other material he could think of. Amusingly, he had discarded the notion of using carbon filaments sometime before, unsatisfied with their performance. But then opportunity met preparedness.
In order to draw gas bubbles out of the platinum as it burned, Edison decided he needed a better vacuum inside the bulb. He managed to greatly improve upon the vacuum pump by combining the qualities of two existing pumps of his day—the Sprengel and Geissler pumps. Then, realization hit: The problem with carbon filaments was that they burned out too fast. But by sealing them in a vacuum, thereby preventing oxidation from occurring, you could greatly improve the life of the filament.
The subsequent combination of the new vacuum pump and the carbon filament made for a remarkably improved bulb, and we were all spared from having all our precious metals end up in Todd Robbins’ stomach.
This post was brought to you by Bromine(Br).
The more I look at the comic, I see inspiration from the Kate Beaton School of Illustrating History. In fact, if there was a physical school, I would go there. Then after becoming rich, donate tons of money to it.