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Sure, sliced bread was a wonderful innovation but, more than 150 years after it was invented, it is the image of a lightbulb that still stands as a symbol of a great new idea. It is hard to overstate the impact that electric light had on society. It is not an exaggeration to say that the incandescent lightbulb not only revolutionized interior lighting in homes and businesses across America, it revolutionized society.

The lightbulb – something that most of us take for granted – changed the way we work; the way we cook and heat our homes; the way we design buildings; the way we are entertained and so much more. It changed the way we live!

The Early History of the Lightbulb

Edison was a giant in the field of electric light, but he wasn’t the only one working to bring a lightbulb to market. “Thomas EdisonGeorge Westinghouse, and other inventors began introducing practical electric power systems in the 1880s,” The Smithsonian National Museum of American History points out.

Expanding on that idea, the Department of Energy says, “Like all great inventions, the light bulb can’t be credited to one inventor It was a series of small improvements on the ideas of previous inventors that have led to the light bulbs we use in our homes today.”

The experts at Department of Energy go on to say, “Long before Thomas Edison patented — first in 1879 and then a year later in 1880 — and began commercializing his incandescent light bulb, British inventors were demonstrating that electric light was possible with the arc lamp. In 1835, the first constant electric light was demonstrated, and for the next 40 years, scientists around the world worked on the incandescent lamp, tinkering with the filament (the part of the bulb that produces light when heated by an electrical current) and the bulb’s atmosphere (whether air is vacuumed out of the bulb or it is filled with an inert gas to prevent the filament from oxidizing and burning out). These early bulbs had extremely short lifespans, were too expensive to produce or used too much energy.”

He was one of the greatest inventors this country has ever seen, but not even Thomas Edison could have foreseen the way his simple incandescent lightbulb would someday evolve into the kind of contemporary chandeliers, decorative lighting and designer exterior lighting that we are known for here at Sculpta Lights.  You could say this particular history lesson is electrifying!

For most people in the United States, any discussion of interior lighting is in effect a discussion about decorative lighting or at the very least it’s a discussion of lighting design. Of course, that wasn’t always the case.

One hundred years ago, much of the country was still in the dark. In fact, in 1925 – less than 100 years ago – only half the homes in this country had electricity, according to the National Park Service, which runs the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in New Jersey.

Electrifying the Country

There was no power grid to plug into when Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb back in the 1870s. Edison used generators to power the interior lighting he had installed in very limited locations. Edison might have been a genius when it came to his innovation inventions, but he was a lousy businessman. It was his young assistant, an Englishman with a heavy Cockney accent named Samuel Insull, who provided the business acumen needed to lay the foundation for a profitable system of delivering electricity to American homes.

“On September 4, 1882, Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York opened a power plant on Pearl Street in Manhattan. Six coal-fired dynamos, each weighing 27 tons, made the steam that powered a grid a mile square,” HistoryNet tells us. “Insull had been integral to persuading city officials, sometimes with bribes, to approve the project, which needed to bury 100,000 feet of wire.”

The Pearl Street Station was the beginning of a massive transformation. Soon a tapestry of privately owned municipal utility companies blanketed the country. By the 1920s, the lights were going on in most of the nation’s cities and towns from coast to coast, but American’s rural communities lagged far behind.

“Running wires into the countryside where there might be only a few people per square mile seemed uneconomical for either investors or tax-payers,” the Smithsonian Museum of American History reports. “By 1932 only about 10% of rural America was electrified, and about half of those people had to buy their own country-home power plants. This electrical divide fueled the difference in standards of living between city and farm, hampering rural Americans’ ability to participate in the life of their modernizing country.”

The Smithsonian Museum of American History says, “World War II interrupted the work of the REA [Rural Electrification Administration]. When President Roosevelt signed the Rural Electrification Bill in September 1944, Roosevelt said, ‘From the point of view of raising the living standards of rural America and providing a more efficient form of farm management, one of the most important projects interrupted by the war is the extension of rural electrification.’”

It wasn’t until the war was over that the electrification of the country was completed. So you see it is only relatively recently that people have developed an interest in decorative lighting. For most of the 20th century, the most important aspect of interior lighting was simply getting the lights turned on!