December 31 is Bright Idea Day, anniversary of the Day the Lights Went On

December 31, 2017

Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, here at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub we celebrate a variety of historically holy days.  December 31, by tradition, is Bright Idea Day, the anniversary of the day Thomas Edison demonstrated for the public a working light bulb, in 1879.

100,000 people gather in Times Square, New York City (surely not the 1 million predicted by NBC!) tonight, and millions more around the world, in festivities for the new year made possible by the work of Thomas Alva Edison.

Here it is, the invention that stole sleep from our grasp, made clubbing possible, and launched 50,000 cartoons about ideas:

The light bulb Thomas Edison demonstrated on December 31, 1879, at Menlo Park, New Jersey - Wikimedia image

The light bulb Thomas Edison demonstrated on December 31, 1879, at Menlo Park, New Jersey – Wikimedia image (GFDL)

The light bulb. It’s an incandescent bulb.

It wasn’t the first bulb. Edison a few months earlier devised a bulb that worked with a platinum filament. Platinum was too expensive for mass production, though — and Edison wanted mass production. So, with the cadre of great assistants at his Menlo Park laboratories, he struggled to find a good, inexpensive filament that would provide adequate life for the bulb. By late December 1879 they had settled on carbon filament.

Edison invited investors and the public to see the bulb demonstrated, on December 31, 1879.

Thomas Edison in 1878, the year before he demonstrated a workable electric light bulb. Library of Congress image

Thomas Edison in 1878, the year before he demonstrated a workable electric light bulb. CREDIT: Thomas Edison, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left, 1880. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction number LC-USZ62-98067

Edison’s successful bulb indicated changes in science, technology, invention, intellectual property and finance well beyond its use of electricity. For example:

  • Edison’s Menlo Park, New Jersey, offices and laboratory were financed with earlier successful inventions. It was a hive of inventive activity aimed to make practical inventions from advances in science. Edison was all about selling inventions and rights to manufacture devices. He always had an eye on the profit potential. His improvements on the telegraph would found his laboratory he thought, and he expected to sell the device to Western Union for $5,000 to $7,000. Instead of offering it to them at a price, however, he asked Western Union to bid on it. They bid $10,000, which Edison gratefully accepted, along with the lesson that he might do better letting the marketplace establish the price for his inventions. Other inventive labs followed Edison’s example, such as the famous Bell Labs, but few equalled his success, or had as much fun doing it.  (Economics teachers:  Need an example of the marketplace in action?)
  • While Edison had some financial weight to invest in the quest for a workable electric light, he also got financial support, $30,000 worth, from some of the finance giants of the day, including J. P. Morgan and the Vanderbilts who established the Edison Light Company.
  • Edison didn’t invent the light bulb — but his improvements on it made it commercial. “In addressing the question ‘Who invented the incandescent lamp?’ historians Robert Friedel and Paul Israel list 22 inventors of incandescent lamps prior to Joseph Wilson Swan and Thomas Edison. They conclude that Edison’s version was able to outstrip the others because of a combination of three factors: an effective incandescent material, a higher vacuum than others were able to achieve (by use of the Sprengel pump) and a high resistance lamp that made power distribution from a centralized source economically viable.”
  • Edison’s financial and business leadership acumen is partly attested to by the continuance of his organizations, today — General Electric, one of the world’s most successful companies over the past 40 years, traces its origins to Edison.

Look around yourself this evening, and you can find a score of ways that Edison’s invention and its descendants affect your life. One of the more musing effects is in cartooning, however. Today a glowing lightbulb is universally accepted as a nonverbal symbol for ideas and inventions. (See Mark Parisi’s series of lightbulb cartoons, “Off the Mark.”)

Even with modern, electricity-saving bulbs, the cartoon shorthand hangs on, as in this Mitra Farmand cartoon.

Fusilli has an idea, Mitra Farmand, Fuffernutter

Brilliant cartoon from Mitra Farmand, Fuffernutter (regrettably, we note this site is no longer there; but with some hope, we find a new site here)

Or see this wonderful animation, a video advertisement for United Airlines, by Joanna Quinn for Fallon — almost every frame has the symbolic lightbulb in it.

Electrification of America, and the consequent spread of electric lighting and electrical machines to make domestic and industrial life more productive, and the spread of great public works to enable these and other inventions to spread, were made possible by a people roughly united in advancing progress, what historians now call “the progressive agenda” and the great advances of the Progressive Era.

Could we get such agreement among workers, corporate bosses and many levels of government today? When we celebrate anniversaries, like the demonstration of the light bulb, we celebrate the united polity that made such things possible, too.

Gee, I wonder who were the dignitaries to whom Edison demonstrated the electric light on that New Years Eve, in 1879. Anyone know? We can safely wager that there were representatives of the Vanderbilts and Morgans there, families who invested in Edison as an inventor.

Other resources:

Patent drawing for Thomas Edison's successful electric lamp. Library of Congress

Thomas Edison’s electric lamp patent drawing and claim for the incandescent light bulb CREDIT: “New Jersey–The Wizard of Electricity–Thomas A. Edison’s System of Electric Illumination,” 1880. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number LC-USZ62-97960.

Even More:

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

Advertisements

President Warren Harding, a voice for the ages

December 29, 2017

In 1922, President Warren G. Harding made a sound recording of his voice, for archival purposes. He died in 1923, succeeded by Calvin Coolidge. National Archives image.

In 1922, President Warren G. Harding made a sound recording of his voice, for archival purposes. He died in 1923, succeeded by Calvin Coolidge. National Archives image.

President Warren G. Harding made a recording of his voice in 1922, for archival purposes. From the photograph it appears the recording was made to a wax or plastic disk. Hypothetically, the recording exists somewhere in the bowels of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).


Typewriter of the moment: Stevie Wonder’s Underwood

December 24, 2017

From Pinterest, The Antikey Chop:

From Pinterest, The Antikey Chop: “Photo of legendary musician Stevie Wonder typing on an aptly named Underwood Rhythm Touch typewriter.” (Is it a Rhythm Touch?)

I actually ran into Ray Charles once, in the Concorde Lounge at Dulles Airport, back in the days when one could accompany friends to the gates. Charles was famous for singing and leading a great band, for great piano playing, and for doing things most people would think blind people can’t or don’t do. Like drive a car.

Should we be surprised that a blind musician would use a typewriter? Is Stevie Wonder a good typist, putting down lyrics so others can sing his songs? Or is this a set-up shot for fun?

There is a series of typewriters by Underwood listed as “Rhythm Touch.” The machine pictured may well be one. Can anyone tell? The image seems to have originated from Greg Fudacz at the Antikey Chop.

The image shows up several times on Pinterest, but nowhere else I can find. Anyone got details on it?


Glorious thread on typewriters and their masters

November 22, 2017

From Dean Frey, posting on Twitter as “Deny Fear @dean_frey.”

Frey posted this wonderful picture of Rachel Carson, taken by Erich Hartmann in 1962 (after publication of Silent Spring?)

Rachel Carson and her typewriter, by Erich Hartmann, 1962.

Rachel Carson and her typewriter, by Erich Hartmann, 1962.

But hold your horses. Frey posted a raft of other artists with their machines. What a glorious little thread!

The entire glorious thread.

You have seen some of those photos, some of those artists, and some of those typewriters in other posts at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub. There are some sparkling photos there I had not seen before.

Thank you, Dean Frey.


She’s 11: America’s top young scientist works to help detect problems in Flint’s water supply, and yours

November 17, 2017

NPR caption: Gitanjali Rao, 11, says she was appalled by the drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich. — so she designed a device to test for lead faster. She was named

NPR caption: Gitanjali Rao, 11, says she was appalled by the drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich. — so she designed a device to test for lead faster. She was named “America’s Top Young Scientist” on Tuesday at the 3M Innovation Center in St. Paul, Minn. Andy King/Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge

Melinda Gates noticed; you should, too. (And check out the NPR story to which Gates links.)

NPR tells the story:

When the drinking water in Flint, Mich., became contaminated with lead, causing a major public health crisis, 11-year-old Gitanjali Rao took notice.

“I had been following the Flint, Michigan, issue for about two years,” the seventh-grader told ABC News. “I was appalled by the number of people affected by lead contamination in water.”

She saw her parents testing the water in their own home in Lone Tree, Colo., and was unimpressed by the options, which can be slow, unreliable or both.

“I went, ‘Well, this is not a reliable process and I’ve got to do something to change this,’ ” Rao told Business Insider.

Rao tells ABC that while she was doing her weekly perusal of MIT’s Materials Science and Engineering website to see “if there’s anything’s new,” she read about new technologies that could detect hazardous substances and decided to see whether they could be adapted to test for lead.

She pressed local high schools and universities to give her lab time and then hunkered down in the “science room” — outfitted with a big white table — that she persuaded her engineer parents to create in their home.

And she set about devising a more efficient solution: a device that could identify lead compounds in water and was portable and relatively inexpensive.

As she explains at lightning speed in her video submission for the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, her device consists of three parts. There is a disposable cartridge containing chemically treated carbon nanotube arrays, an Arduino-based signal processor with a Bluetooth attachment, and a smartphone app that can display the results.

(Film details:

Published on Jul 18, 2017
“Meet Gitanjali. Gitanjali hopes to reduce the time of lead detection in water by using a mobile app, to connect over Bluetooth to get status of water, almost immediately.”)

Stories like this should give you hope for our future. It’s clear that women should be encouraged to go into science and technology.

Stories like this should also get you out of your chair to yell at policy makers who cut funds for basic research, for education, and who rail against immigration. President Trump will not host the science fair that graced the White House for the past eight years. Time for you and me to stand up to demand support for science, and for women in science.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Melinda Gates.

More:

 


Boston Typewriter Orchestra. Is that a thing?

September 8, 2017

Alex Holman, first tenor Smith-Corona, Boston Typewriter Orchestra

Alex Holman, first tenor Smith-Corona, Boston Typewriter Orchestra

Seems to be.

I note they use non-typewriter bells instead of the return bell on the typewriter. Bells fell out of favor with later electrics. Is that a problem?

Do activities like this preserve the culture of the typewriter, or burn out actual working typewriters at greater speed? The eternal problem of art versus conservation.

Tip of the old scrub brush to The Good Men Project.

More:

Save

Save

Save


Why there were no personal computers, or smartphones, in the 1960s

June 13, 2017

Love this photo. It says so much.

Science Magazine Tweet: 10 MB hard disk from the 1960s.

Science Magazine Tweet: 10 MB hard disk from the 1960s.

Who is the guy in the photo? Pretty sure it’s a contemporaneous picture of the historic artifact.

More:

 


%d bloggers like this: