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The Artful Business of Making Light

The humble light bulb is an object we all take for granted. Just flick the switch and we can see in the dark and illuminate our lives. Yet this clever invention is only 150 years old. Streets, factories and homes were lit by oil and gas lamps and candles before the ideas and experiments of innovators like Joseph Swan, Thomas Edison and Lewis Howard Latimer in the late C19th.

During 2023 The Earth Museum has been working on a project for the National Trust at Cragside cataloguing and storing more than 1,500 light bulbs spanning 150 years of history in an amazing collection. Over the next few months we’ll fill this page with little snippets of knowledge we’ve gleaned during this wonderful project and creating a digital light bulb heritage map.

The Swan Light Bulb with cotton filament. Early 1880s. Invented by Joseph Swan and made in Newcastle with support by William Armstrong at Cragside, Northumberland.
The Edison Light Bulb with bamboo filament. Early 1880s. Invented by Thomas Edison and made in New York.
The Carbon Arc Lamp with carbon rods.
Making the Swan Light Bulb
Making the Edison Light Bulb