Google doodle of Thomas Edison reminded me of a "well-I-never!" fact that could come in useful if it crops up at a pub quiz. Who invented the light bulb? It was Edison, right? That's the standard answer (admit it, that's what you thought). But it's not correct. It was Humprey Davy, though some attribute to Thomas Swann
The Wizard of Menlo Park was certainly one of the most productive and creative inventors in history. His entry on Wikipedia says that he had more than a thousand patents to his name in the US, UK, Germany and France and is "credited with numerous inventions that contributed to mass communication and, in particular, telecommunications. These included a stock ticker, a mechanical vote recorder, a battery for an electric car, electrical power, recorded music and motion pictures. His advanced work in these fields was an outgrowth of his early career as a telegraph operator."
Edison was busy doing all his prolific inventing when he came across the work of the English scientist and inventor Joseph Swan. In the 1840s, as a follow up to Day's work, Swan had started experimenting with heating things up until they glowed, thinking this might be a reliable way to produce light for illumination. It took decades of work before he finally got his patent for a carbon filament incandescent lamp, which worked by heating up the carbon until it was white hot. The glowing filament did not catch fire because it was enclosed in a partial vacuum and there wasn't enough oxygen to allow ignition.Swan demonstrated his electric light bulb in 1879, but it wasn't very efficient. Enter Thomas Alva
Edison's marketing machine.
Edison had been working on copies of Swan's bulb, trying to improve its efficiency. He patented an electric light bulb (a copy of Swan's design) in America and began marketing and selling and getting the product into offices and homes. Swan may have invented the light bulb, but Edison can rightly lay claim to making it popular.
Subsequently – and here's where the historical error starts – Edison began telling people that he was the inventor of the light bulb. Swan did not seem too concerned, however, and just agreed to keep the rights to the invention in Britain, while Edison kept the American market.
The two eventually merged their businesses into the Edison and Swan United Company. So everyone was happy, though history got slightly rewritten in the confusion. Perhaps it's time Google dedicated a doodle to Humphry Davy.