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Electric Lighting


This page is  under construction. 

Artificial Light Before Electricity


Platinum Sponge Lighter
ca. 1830

Oil lamps were the predominant source of artificial light in the the early 19th century. Lighting them was difficult, however, until the widespread availability of matches around the middle of the century.  In the meantime, a number of creative approaches were tried, with varying degrees of success. This device, called a platinum sponge lighter, utilized a small piece of platinum similar to steel wool suspended in a glass enclosure.  When hydrogen gas was allowed into the container, the platinum would spontaneously burst into flame, igniting the hydrogen, which appeared as a small jet of flame.  The small alcohol lamp in the foreground was then ignited from this flame. Once the alcohol lamp was burning, the hydrogen fire was extinguished.  The alcohol lamp could then be carried throughout the building, to light the oil lamps. 

Unfortunately the apparatus was tricky to operate, and the wrong mix of hydrogen and air would result in an explosion. Perhaps that is why so few hydrogen lamps survive today.

Serrin Electric Arc Lamp
ca. 1857

What you see here is the only known example of the first self-starting and self-regulating arc lamp invented by Victor Serrin of Paris, and built in 1857 by the great French instrument maker, Breguet. This beautiful lamp represents an important step in the evolution of the electric light. During the 1850’s many people had devised electromagnetic regulators to maintain the arc as the carbon electrodes burnt down. However, in order to start the arc, the carbon rods had to be touched together briefly and then separated. Existing mechanisms required that the lamp be started manually. This was a big problem especially if the lamp was in a hard to reach area or if it went out once it had been started. Serrin's design proved popular and was soon adopted as the main choice for French light houses where it served for many years. All of this took place 22 years before Thomas Edison perfected his incandescent lamp!

Welsbach "Arc" Lamp


Invention of the Dynamo

Pixii's Dynamic Electric Machine


Clarke Magneto-Electric machine


Alliance Dynamo


Gramme Dynamo


Edison "long-legged Mary-Ann" Dynamo of 1884,
later renamed the "long-waisted" Mary-Ann out of modesty

Oneco Bipolar Dynamo
Circa 1890's

Edison 1/2 KW Bipolar Dynamo
Circa 1880's

Edison "Long Legged Mary-Ann Dynamo


Very early Dynamo Regulator.  Signed “US Electric Lighting Co. NY” (stamped onto the adjusting arm lever.) Regulators such as this were used in early electric lighting circuits to adjust the dynamo output. The regulator consists of a rheostat (adjustable resistance) placed inside a wooden box. The device is connected to the dynamo field circuit, and by turning the handle the dynamo may be adjusted to run any number of lights from one to the maximum load.

The United States Electric Lighting company (USEL) was an early competitor to Edison, formed by Weston, Maxim, and Farmer, the latter two having claimed priority to the incandescent lamp. USEL and Edison were the first companies in the United Stated to develop a metering and controlling system for dynamos.

Mahogany frame is covered with coarse metal screen on sides and back, and is supported by four round wooden feet. Measures 10-1/2 x 11-3/4 x 6-1/2”. The number “1427” is stamped into the front panel.

Beautiful example of an early and very rare dynamo regulator. American, circa 1881




Early attempts at Incandescent Lighting

Edison's Invention: A Practical Incandescent Lamp


Rarest Edison Lamp. This one was shown in Edison's 1879 New-Year's eve demonstration at Menlo Park.

Edison's earliest lamps feature the sunburst paper label.


The Arc Lamp

Early Fixtures and Hardware


Early Examples of Incandescent Lamps
1879 - 1888

Edison spear point lamp with
"Petticoat" press.

Edison lamp using
kerosene can lid for base,
red border label

Early Edison Lamp with later
Johnson bevel-ring base,
blue border label


Edison Lamp with
Johnson bevel-ring base

Edison Lamp with
plaster ring base

Edison Lamp with
hairpin filament


Edison lamp - Very rare
This is the very first lamp using Edison's carbon paste clamps instead of the  heavy copper plated clamps used earlier. Note the base is the very early short threaded form with the large brass contact button.

Edison hairpin carbon lamp

Evolution of the Stem Press

Early round seal stem (called the "pantaloon" because of it's shape)  with long platinum press leads twisted & soldered to outer leads. Screw clamps connect inner leads to filament

Early round seal "Petticoat" press showing glass tubes on inner leads. Screw clamps connect inner leads to filament

Early round stem with no glass tubes, "Smooth" press, screw clamps connect inner leads to filament.

Flat seal stem with long platinum inner leads connecting to screw clamps.

Flat seal stem, copper plated clamps connect platinum press leads to filament.
Same as previous example, but with platinum press leads are made shorter to reduce cost.

Similar to  previous, but without plaster ring
Flat seal stem , conductive paste used to attach "goal-post" style inside leads to filament.  Note short base. Edison produced very few lamps with this configuration.

Flat seal stem,  platinum press leads reduced further
Flat seal stem, platinum reduced significantly by embedding the lead welds  inside the glass seal.


Flat seal stem, platinum reduced to a minimum.

Later type with  copper tips omitted and platinum leads run through the seal, but with remaining welds still embedded in the glass


Other Unusual and Early Stems, Clamps, and Presses



Weston w/ Tamadine filament


Perkins-Mather carbonized paper hairpin filament


Perkins-Mather spiral filament


Perkins-Mather multi-filament


Packard 32cp Lamp, Thomson-Houston base



Edison Lamps with Non-Edison bases
(All date from the 1890's)

New Type Edison with Brush-Swan base

New Type Edison with Hawkeye base
New-Type Edison Cranberry with Westinghouse base
New-Type Edison with Perkins-Mather base
New-Type Edison with Edison base
New-Type Edison with Shaeffer base
New-Type Edison Frosted with Thomson-Houston base
New-Type Edison with U.S. base
New-Type Edison with combo Westinghouse-Edison base
Edison Jr. frosted mushroom with Thomson-Houston base
New-Type Gilmore with Edison base
Edison  with Edison base. Etching on glass reads "Edison Lab"

New-Type Edison Color Lamps


Other Early Lamps

Perkins-Mather hairpin
carbonized paper filament
& Platinum clamps

Perkins-Mather multi-filament

Perkins-Mather spiral filament

Perkins-Mather hairpin filament
The three Perkins-Mather lamps shown above left are very rare, these are the only known to exist. If you are aware of others, please contact me.



New-Type Edison Railway Series

Edison hairpin filament

Packard 32cp Lamp, Thomson-Houston base

Swan, no base

Maxim, no base

Maxim, very uncommon with unusual base

Shelby tipless cranberry mushroom
One of the first tipless lamps

Unknown milk glass lamp w/ Edison base

milk glass with wood base
Nernst - General Electric lamp  with socket base

Nernst Lamp - Westinghouse

Westinghouse stopper with
removable base

Packard w/Thomson-Houston base
and guest press
ca. 1890

Edison with hairpin filament




Tamadine Filament, US base

Beacon stopper w/Westinghouse base

Beacon w/ Thomson-Houston base

Woodhouse & Rawson
or Stanley
w/ wood base
early 1880's

Austrian deco white lamp

Austrian deco aqua lamp

Miller patent lamp

Beacon w/ Thomson-Houston base
early 1890's

Beacon w/ Thomson-Houston base,
dark amber
early 1890's

Maxim w/Swan base

Swan w/ Swan base

Vic's Vapo-Lite, cobalt blue

Sterling spiral

Edison standard candlepower
tungsten filament lamp

Philips Neon 'Night Light'
c. 1923

Heissler w/ unusual base

Hesissler w/nickel base

Hesissler w/hard rubber base

Brush -Swan


Hawkeye, w/ Hawkeye base
(probably made by Packard)


Swan w/ hookeye base
(Socket for screwing into gas fixtures)

Swan or Thomson w/ hookeye base
(Socket for screwing into gas fixtures)

Sunbeam, no base
late 1880's
Rare, early example

Shelby Mushroom w/ Westinghouse base

Shaefer w/ Shaefer base
mid-early  1890's

Siemens & Halske w/ Siemens & Halske base

Westinghouse cranberry glass
w/ Westinghouse base
early 1890's

Early Westinghouse
w/ Byllesby-Lange base

Peerless w/ Brush-Swan base
late 1890's

Sterling spiral w/ Thomson-Houston
white porcelain base

Colombia w/ Edison base




More  Lamps

Rare Early Edison X-Ray tube
(from Edison Historic Site, West Orange, New Jersey)
Early Photographic flash bulb using aluminum foil and Oxygen gas
Later, but early photographic flash bulb using spun magnesium
Osram Miniature lamp
Hand-painted decorative lamp made into a perfume bottle
Ediswan Tungar Rectifier
GE 120v 250W "Dri-Ray" Lamp
Kodak Brownie Darkroom Lamp
Champion Tungsten Lamp with sleeve  


Sylvania "Egg Crate" colored lamps




Early Power Meters

The Edison Chemical Meter
Edison set up his first power station in New York City at Pearl Street. The station began operation on September 4, 1882. In order to keep track of the electricity used by his customers, Edison designed the first electric wattmeter, called the "Chemical meter" (see below.)

hemical Meter
Edison Gas & Electric Co.

ca. 1883

  It was a crude device based on the principle of electroplating, developed by Michael Faraday. Faraday had found that the transfer of metal from one plate to another in an electrolytic bath was exactly proportional to the current. Edison's first meter held a small glass jar in which two copper plates were suspended in a solution of copper sulphate. The cover of the cell was arranged so that one of the plates was easily removable by means of an insulated clamp with a thumb screw; the other plate, which was thick and cylindrical in form, was intended to remain in the cell to allow the copper to be transferred from it to the other plate via electrolysis. An Edison employee would visit the meter periodically, remove the electrode and weigh it, and the customer would be billed accordingly.

While the concept worked well in theory, in practice it was inconvenient and not especially accurate.  Worse, there was no way for a customer to independently confirm their consumption of electricity so their confidence in the device was not high. As a result the meters were replaced in short order, and very few can be found today.



Wiring diagram of the chemical meter
Source: Scribner's Monthly, February, 1880

Inside the Edison Chemical Meter.
Note the small jar containing the electrodes and electrolyte solution.


Edison Ammeter
Edison General Electric


Edison General Electric

Westinghouse Converter
The first AC line transformer
ca. 1888







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