This Day in History
Edison and the Electric Light

Edison Invents Electric Light
October 21, 1879

From the beginning, circumstances decreed that Americans would address themselves not so much to “Natural” Philosophy, as to the immediate and practical potentialities of Science. They were a new people in a new world. New methods of farming were required, new tools, even new measurements. The American Philosophical Society made this clear in its 1769 Charter; it was to address itself to agriculture, botany, navigation, and similar subjects. Benjamin Franklin - who had seized the lightning from the skies and toppled tyrants from their thrones - was one of the Society’s first presidents, and a model to its members. Thomas Alva Edison was in many ways Franklin’s legitimate successor. Like Franklin, he could not refrain from improving everything he set eyes on. Not a theoretical scientist, he was the most successful of all scientists interested in the well being and convenience, the wealth and health of the ordinary man. Everything he touched, he improved; the telegraph, the telephone, the phonograph, photography, motion pictures, and - perhaps most important of all - electric lighting, one of the greatest booms to mankind. Heralded by a New York reporter as a “bright, beautiful light, like the mellow sunset of an Italian autumn,” Edison’s light revolutionized the science of illumination. When he was 80, Congress awarded Edison a Gold Medal for “inventions that revolutionized civilization.” More literally than anyone else of our time, Edison merits the motto: Fiat Lux, let there be light.

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All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Künstler, Edward Lengel, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright © 2001-2019. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.