. The hot filament is protected from air by a glass bulb that is filled with inert gas or evacuated. In a halogen lamp
, a chemical process returns metal to the filament, extending its life. The light bulb is supplied with electrical current by feed-through terminals or wires embedded in the glass. Most bulbs are used in a socket which provides mechanical support and electrical connections.
Incandescent bulbs are produced in a wide range of sizes, light output, and voltage
ratings, from 1.5 volts to about 300 volts. They require no external regulating equipment, have low manufacturing cost
s, and work equally well on either alternating current or direct current. As a result, the incandescent lamp is widely used in household and commercial lighting, for portable lighting such as table lamps, car headlamp
s, and flashlight
s, and for decorative and advertising lighting.
Some applications of the incandescent bulb use the heat generated by the filament, such as incubators, brooding boxes for poultry
, heat lights for reptile
tanks, infrared heating
for industrial heating and drying processes, and the Easy-Bake Oven
toy. This waste heat increases the energy required by a building's air conditioning
Incandescent light bulbs are gradually being replaced in many applications by other types of electric light
s, such as fluorescent lamp
s, compact fluorescent lamp
s (CFL), cold cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFL), high-intensity discharge lamp
s, and light-emitting diode
s (LEDs). These newer technologies improve the ratio of visible light to heat generation. Some jurisdictions, such as the European Union
, are in the process of phasing out the use of incandescent light bulbs in favor of more energy-efficient lighting.
History of the light bulb
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
that made power distribution from a centralized source economically viable.
Another historian, Thomas Hughes, has attributed Edison's success to the fact that he developed an entire, integrated system of electric lighting.
The lamp was a small component in his system of electric lighting, and no more critical to its effective functioning than the Edison Jumbo generatorElectrical generatorIn electricity generation, an electric generator is a device that converts mechanical energy to electrical energy. A generator forces electric charge to flow through an external electrical circuit. It is analogous to a water pump, which causes water to flow...
, the Edison main and feeder, and the parallel-distribution system. Other inventors with generators and incandescent lamps, and with comparable ingenuity and excellence, have long been forgotten because their creators did not preside over their introduction in a system of lightingLightingLighting or illumination is the deliberate application of light to achieve some practical or aesthetic effect. Lighting includes the use of both artificial light sources such as lamps and light fixtures, as well as natural illumination by capturing daylight...
Historian Thomas P. Hughes
|Early evolution of the light bulb|
Early pre-commercial researchIn 1802, Humphry Davy
had what was then the most powerful electrical battery
in the world at the Royal Institution
of Great Britain. In that year, he created the first incandescent light by passing the current through a thin strip of platinum
, chosen because the metal had an extremely high melting point
. It was not bright enough nor did it last long enough to be practical, but it was the precedent behind the efforts of scores of experimenters over the next 75 years. In 1809, Davy also created the first arc lamp
with two carbon
rods connected to a 2000-cell battery; it was demonstrated to the Royal Institution in 1810.
Over the first three-quarters of the 19th century many experimenters worked with various combinations of platinum or iridium wires, carbon rods, and evacuated or semi-evacuated enclosures. Many of these devices were demonstrated and some were patented.
In 1835, James Bowman Lindsay
demonstrated a constant electric light at a public meeting in Dundee, Scotland. He stated that he could "read a book at a distance of one and a half feet". However, having perfected the device to his own satisfaction, he turned to the problem of wireless telegraphy
and did not develop the electric light any further. His claims are not well documented, although he is credited in Challoner etal. with being the inventor of the "Incandescent Light Bulb".
In 1840, British scientist Warren de la Rue
enclosed a coil
ed platinum filament in a vacuum
tube and passed an electric current through it. The design was based on the concept that the high melting point
of platinum would allow it to operate at high temperatures and that the evacuated chamber would contain fewer gas molecules to react with the platinum, improving its longevity. Although an efficient design, the cost of the platinum made it impractical for commercial use.
In 1841, Frederick de Moleyns of England was granted the first patent
for an incandescent lamp, with a design using platinum wires contained within a vacuum bulb.
In 1845, American John W. Starr
acquired a patent for his incandescent light bulb involving the use of carbon filaments.
He died shortly after obtaining the patent, and his invention was never produced commercially. Little else is known about him.
In 1851, Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin
publicly demonstrated incandescent light bulbs on his estate in Blois, France. His light bulbs are on permanent display in the museum of the Château de Blois
In 1872, Russian Alexander Lodygin invented an incandescent light bulb and obtained a Russian patent in 1874. He used as a burner two carbon rods of diminished section in a glass receiver, hermetically sealed, and filled with nitrogen, electrically arranged so that the current could be passed to the second carbon when the first had been consumed.
Later he lived in the USA, changed his name to Alexander de Lodyguine and applied and obtained patents for incandescent lamps having chromium
filaments,, and a bulb using a molybdenum filament was demonstrated at the world fair
of 1900 in Paris
in 1893 claimed he had designed the first incandescent light bulb in 1854, with a thin carbonized bamboo
filament of high resistance, platinum lead-in wires in an all-glass envelope, and a high vacuum. Judges of four courts raised doubts about the alleged Goebel anticipation, but there was never a decision in a final hearing due to the expiry date of Edison's patent. A research work published 2007 concluded that the story of the Goebel lamps in the 1850s is a legend.
On July 24, 1874, a Canadian
was filed by Henry Woodward
and Mathew Evans
for a lamp consisting of carbon rods mounted in a nitrogen-filled glass cylinder. They were unsuccessful at commercializing their lamp, and sold rights to their patent to Thomas Edison in 1879.
(1828–1914) was a British physicist and chemist. In 1850, he began working with carbonized paper filaments in an evacuated glass bulb. By 1860, he was able to demonstrate a working device but the lack of a good vacuum and an adequate supply of electricity resulted in a short lifetime for the bulb and an inefficient source of light. By the mid-1870s better pumps became available, and Swan returned to his experiments.
With the help of Charles Stearn, an expert on vacuum pumps, in 1878, Swan developed a method of processing that avoided the early bulb blackening. This received British Patent No 8 in 1880. On 18 December 1878, a lamp using a slender carbon rod was shown at a meeting of the Newcastle Chemical Society, and Swan gave a working demonstration at their meeting on 17 January 1879. It was also shown to 700 who attended a meeting of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne on 3 February 1879. These lamps used a carbon rod from an arc lamp rather than a slender filament. Thus they had low resistance and required very large conductors to supply the necessary current, so they were not commercially practical, although they did furnish a demonstration of the possibilities of incandescent lighting with relatively high vacuum, a carbon conductor, and platinum lead-in wires. Besides requiring too much current for a central station electric system to be practical, they had a very short lifetime. Swan turned his attention to producing a better carbon filament and the means of attaching its ends. He devised a method of treating cotton to produce 'parchmentised thread' and obtained British Patent 4933 in 1880. From this year he began installing light bulbs in homes and landmarks in England. His house was the first in the world to be lit by a lightbulb and so the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectric power. In the early 1880s he had started his company. In 1881, the Savoy Theatre
in the City of Westminster
, London was lit by Swan incandescent lightbulbs, which was the first theatre, and the first public building in the world, to be lit entirely by electricity
began serious research into developing a practical incandescent lamp in 1878. Edison filed his first patent application for "Improvement In Electric Lights" on October 14, 1878. After many experiments with platinum and other metal filaments, Edison returned to a carbon
filament. The first successful test was on October 22, 1879, and lasted 13.5 hours. Edison continued to improve this design and by November 4, 1879, filed for a U.S. patent for an electric lamp using "a carbon filament or strip coiled and connected ... to platina contact wires." Although the patent described several ways of creating the carbon filament including using "cotton and linen thread, wood splints, papers coiled in various ways," it was not until several months after the patent was granted that Edison and his team discovered that a carbonized bamboo filament could last over 1200 hours.
Hiram S. Maxim started a lightbulb company in 1878 to exploit his patents and those of William Sawyer
. His United States Electric Lighting Company was the second company, after Edison, to sell practical incandescent electric lamps. They made their first commercial installation of incandescent lamps at the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company in New York City
in the fall of 1880, about six months after the Edison incandescent lamps had been installed on the steamer Columbia. In October 1880, Maxim patented a method of coating carbon filaments with hydrocarbon
s to extend their life. Lewis Latimer, his employee at the time, developed an improved method of heat-treating them which reduced breakage and allowed them to be molded into novel shapes, such as the characteristic "M" shape of Maxim filaments. On January 17, 1882, Latimer received a patent for the "Process of Manufacturing Carbons," an improved method for the production of light bulb filaments, which was purchased by the United States Electric Light Company. Latimer patented other improvements such as a better way of attaching filaments to their wire supports.
, the Edison and Swan companies merged into the Edison and Swan United Electric Company (later known as Ediswan, that was ultimately incorporated into Thorn Lighting Ltd). Edison was initially against this combination, but after Swan sued him and won, Edison was eventually forced to cooperate, and the merger was made. Eventually, Edison acquired all of Swan's interest in the company. Swan sold his United States patent rights to the Brush Electric Company in June 1882.
was installed. These did not become common in homes for many years.
The United States Patent Office
gave a ruling October 8, 1883, that Edison's patents were based on the prior art of William Sawyer
and were invalid. Litigation continued for a number of years. Eventually on October 6, 1889, a judge ruled that Edison's electric light improvement claim for "a filament of carbon of high resistance" was valid.
In the 1890s, the Austrian inventor Carl Auer von Welsbach
worked on metal-filament mantles, first with platinum
wire, and then osmium
, and produced an operating version in 1898. In 1898, he patented the osmium lamp and started marketing it in 1902, the first commercial metal filament incandescent lamp.
In 1897, German physicist and chemist Walther Nernst
developed the Nernst lamp
, a form of incandescent lamp that used a ceramic globar
and did not require enclosure in a vacuum or inert gas. Twice as efficient as carbon filament lamps, Nernst lamps were briefly popular until overtaken by lamps using metal filaments.
In 1901, American businessman Frank A. Poor purchased the Merritt Manufacturing Company, the predecessor to North American light bulb makers Hygrade and Osram Sylvania
. Poor's firm in Middleton, Massachusetts
, specialized in refilling burned-out light bulbs until 1916.
In 1903, Willis Whitnew invented a metal-coated carbon filament that would not blacken the inside of a light bulb.
On December 13, 1904, Hungarian
Sándor Just and Croatian
Franjo Hanaman were granted a Hungarian patent (No. 34541) for a tungsten
filament lamp, that lasted longer and gave a brighter light than the carbon filament. Tungsten filament lamps were first marketed by the Hungarian
in 1904, so this type is often called Tungsram-bulbs in many European countries. Their experiments also showed that the luminosity of bulbs that were filled up with an inert gas
was higher. The tungsten filament outlasted all other types.
In 1906, the General Electric Company
patented a method of making filaments from sintered tungsten
and in 1911, used ductile tungsten wire for incandescent light bulbs.
In 1913, Irving Langmuir
found that filling a lamp with inert gas
instead of a vacuum resulted in twice the luminous efficacy and reduction of bulb blackening. In 1924, Marvin Pipkin
, an American chemist, patented a process for frost
ing the inside of lamp bulbs without weakening them, and in 1947, he patented a process for coating the inside of lamps with silica.
In 1930, Hungarian
filled lamps with krypton gas rather than argon, and designed a process to obtain krypton from air. Production of krypton filled lamps based on his invention started at Ajka
in 1937, in a factory co-designed by Polányi and Hungarian-born physicist Egon Orowan
By 1964, improvements in efficiency and production of incandescent lamps had reduced the cost of providing a given quantity of light by a factor of thirty, compared with the cost at introduction of Edison's lighting system
Consumption of incandescent light bulbs grew rapidly in the United States. In 1885, an estimated 300,000 general lighting service lamps were sold, all with carbon filaments. When tungsten filament were introduced, there were about 50 million lamp sockets in the United States. In 1914, 88.5 million lamps were used, (only 15% with carbon filaments), and by 1945, annual sales of lamps were 795 million (more than 5 lamps per person per year).
CartelsBetween 1924 and 1939, the international market for incandescent light bulbs was controlled by the Phoebus cartel, which dictated wholesale prices and whose members controlled most of the world market for lamps.
Efficiency and environmental impact
, rather than as visible light
of a light source is a ratio of the visible light energy emitted (the luminous flux) to the total power input to the lamp. Visible light is measured in lumens
, a unit which is defined in part by the differing sensitivity of the human eye to different wavelengths of light. Not all wavelengths of visible electromagnetic energy are equally effective at stimulating the human eye; the luminous efficacy of radiant energy is a measure of how well the distribution of energy matches the perception of the eye. The maximum efficacy possible is 683 lm/W for monochromatic green light at 555 nanometres wavelength, the peak sensitivity of the human eye. For white light, the maximum luminous efficacy is around 240 lumens per watt, but the exact value is not unique because the human eye can perceive many different mixtures of visible light as "white".
The chart below lists values of overall luminous efficacy and efficiency for several types of general service, 120-volt, 1000-hour lifespan incandescent bulb, and several idealized light sources. A similar chart in the article on luminous efficacy compares a broader array of light sources to one another.
|Type||Overall luminous efficiency||Overall luminous efficacy (lm/W)|
|40 W tungsten incandescent||1.9%||12.6|
|60 W tungsten incandescent||2.1%||14.5|
|100 W tungsten incandescent||2.6%||17.5|
|ideal black-body radiator at 4000 K (or a class
In astronomy, stellar classification is a classification of stars based on their spectral characteristics. The spectral class of a star is a designated class of a star describing the ionization of its chromosphere, what atomic excitations are most prominent in the light, giving an objective measure...
K star like Arcturus)
|ideal black-body radiator at 7000 K (or a class
In astronomy, stellar classification is a classification of stars based on their spectral characteristics. The spectral class of a star is a designated class of a star describing the ionization of its chromosphere, what atomic excitations are most prominent in the light, giving an objective measure...
F star like Procyon
Procyon is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Minor. To the naked eye, it appears to be a single star, the seventh brightest in the night sky with a visual apparent magnitude of 0.34...
|ideal monochromatic 555 nm (green) source||100%||683|
Unfortunately, the spectrum emitted by a blackbody radiator does not match the sensitivity characteristics of the human eye. Tungsten filaments radiate mostly infrared radiation at temperatures where they remain solid (below 3683 kelvin
s / 3410 °C / 6,170 °F). Donald L. Klipstein explains it this way: "An ideal thermal radiator produces visible light most efficiently at temperatures around 6300 °C (6600 K or 11,500 °F). Even at this high temperature, a lot of the radiation is either infrared or ultraviolet, and the theoretical luminous efficiency is 95 lumens per watt." No known material can be used as a filament at this ideal temperature, which is hotter than the sun's surface. An upper limit for incandescent lamp luminous efficacy is around 52 lumens per watt, the theoretical value emitted by tungsten at its melting point.
For a given quantity of light, an incandescent light bulb produces more heat (and consumes more power) than a fluorescent lamp
. In buildings where air conditioning
is used, incandescent lamps' heat output increases load on the air conditioning system. Heat from lights will displace heat required from a building's heating system; generally space heating energy is of lower cost than electricity.
High-quality halogen incandescent lamps
have higher efficacy, which will allow a 60-watt bulb to provide nearly as much light as a non-halogen 100-watt bulb. Also, a lower-wattage halogen lamp can be designed to produce the same amount of light as a 60-watt non-halogen lamp, but with much longer life.
Many light sources, such as the fluorescent lamp
, high-intensity discharge lamp
s and LED lamps offer higher efficiency, and some have been designed to be retrofitted in existing fixtures. These devices produce light by luminescence
, instead of heating a filament to incandescence. These mechanisms produce discrete spectral line
s and so don't have the broad "tail" of wasted invisible infrared emissions produced by incandescent emitters. By careful selection of which electron energy level transitions are used, the spectrum emitted can be tuned to mimic the appearance of incandescent sources, or other different color temperature
s of white light.
Cost of lightingThe initial cost of an incandescent bulb is small compared to the cost of the energy it uses over its lifetime. A comparison of incandescent lamp operating cost with other light sources must consider the luminous efficacy produced by each lamp. The comparison must include illumination requirements, capital cost of the lamp, labor cost to replace lamps, various depreciation factors for light output as the lamp ages, effect of lamp operation on heating and air conditioning systems, and energy consumption as well.
Measures to ban its useDue to the higher energy usage of incandescent light bulbs in comparison to more energy efficient alternatives, such as CFL
s and LED lamp
s, many governments have introduced measures to ban their use, by setting minimum efficacy standards higher than can be achieved by general service lamps.
In the United States, federal law has scheduled the most common incandescent light bulbs to be phased out by 2014, to be replaced with more energy-efficient light bulbs. Traditional incandescent light bulbs were phased out in Australia in November 2009.
There has been consumer resistance to phasing out of incandescent lamps, preferring the quality of light produced from incandescents to the principle of free markets, the instant availability of light, and concerns about mercury
with CFLs. Varying and unpredictable quality of current CFLs and LED lamps adds to the resistance.
Efforts to improve efficiencySome research has been carried out to improve the efficacy of commercial incandescent lamps. In 2007, the consumer lighting division of General Electric
announced a "high efficiency incandescent" (HEI) lamp project, which they claimed would ultimately be as much as four times more efficient than current incandescents, although their initial production goal was to be approximately two times more efficient. The HEI program was quietly terminated in 2008 due to slow progress.
U.S. Department of Energy research at Sandia National Laboratories
initially indicated the potential for dramatically improved efficiency from a photonic lattice filament. However, later work indicated that initially promising results were in error.
Prompted by U.S. legislation mandating increased bulb efficiency by 2012, new "hybrid" incandescent bulbs have been introduced by Philips
. The "Halogena Energy Saver" incandescent is 30 percent more efficient than traditional designs, using a special chamber to reflect formerly wasted heat back to the filament to provide additional lighting power.
ConstructionIncandescent light bulbs consist of a glass
enclosure (the envelope, or bulb) with a filament of tungsten
wire inside the bulb, through which an electric current
is passed. Contact wires and a base with two (or more) conductors provide electrical connections to the filament. Incandescent light bulbs usually contain a stem or glass mount anchored to the bulb's base that allows the electrical contacts to run through the envelope without gas/air leaks. Small wires embedded in the stem in turn support the filament and/or its lead wires. The bulb is filled with an inert gas
such as argon
to reduce evaporation
and prevent oxidation of the filament.
An electric current heats the filament to typically 2000 to 3300 K (3,140.3 to 5,480.3 F)), well below tungsten's melting point of 3695 kelvins (6,191.3 °F). Filament temperatures depend on the filament type, shape, size, and amount of current drawn. The heated filament emits light that approximates a continuous spectrum
. The useful part of the emitted energy is visible light, but most energy is given off as heat
in the near-infrared
Three-way light bulbs have two filaments and three conducting contacts in their bases. The filaments share a common ground, and can be lit separately or together. Common wattages include 30–70–100, 50–100–150, and 100–200–300, with the first two numbers referring to the individual filaments, and the third giving the combined wattage.
While most light bulbs have clear or frosted glass, other kinds are also produced, including the various colors used for Christmas tree
lights and other decorative lighting. Neodymium
-containing glass is sometimes used to provide a more natural-appearing light.
Many arrangements of electrical contacts are used. Large lamps may have a screw base (one or more contacts at the tip, one at the shell) or a bayonet base (one or more contacts on the base, shell used as a contact or used only as a mechanical support). Some tubular lamps have an electrical contact at either end. Miniature lamps may have a wedge base and wire contacts, and some automotive and special purpose lamps have screw terminals for connection to wires. Contacts in the lamp socket allow the electric current to pass through the base to the filament. Power ratings for incandescent light bulbs range from about 0.1 watt
to about 10,000 watts.
The glass bulb of a general service lamp can reach temperatures between 200 and 260 °C (392 and 500 F). Lamps intended for high power operation or used for heating purposes will have envelopes made of hard glass or fused quartz
ManufacturingEarly lamps were laboriously hand-assembled; however, after automatic machinery was developed the cost of lamps fell.
In manufacturing the glass bulb, a type of "ribbon machine" is used. A continuous ribbon of glass is passed along a conveyor belt, heated in a furnace, and then blown by precisely aligned air nozzles through holes in the conveyor belt into molds. Thus the glass bulbs are created. After the bulbs are blown, and cooled, they are cut off of the ribbon machine. A typical machine of this sort produces 50,000 bulbs per hour. The filament and its supports are assembled on a glass stem, which is fused to the bulb. The air is pumped out of the bulb, and the evacuation tube in the stem press is sealed by a flame. The bulb is then inserted into the lamp base, and the whole assembly tested.
FilamentThe first successful light bulb filaments were made of carbon
(from carbonized paper or bamboo
). Early carbon filaments had a negative temperature coefficient of resistance -- as they got hotter, their electrical resistance decreased. This made the lamp sensitive to fluctuations in the power supply, since a small increase of voltage would cause the filament to heat up, reducing its resistance and causing it to draw even more power and heat even further. In the "flashing" process, carbon filaments were heated by current passing through them, while in an evacuated vessel containing hydrocarbon (gasoline) vapor. The carbon deposited by this treatment improved the uniformity and strength of filaments, and their efficiency. A metallized or graphitized filament was first heated in a high-temperature oven before flashing and lamp assembly; this transformed the carbon into graphite, which further strengthened and smoothed the filament, and as a byproduct had the advantage of changing the lamp to a positive temperature coefficient like a metallic conductor. This helped stabilize power consumption, temperature and light output against minor variations in supply voltage.
In 1902, the Siemens
company developed a tantalum
lamp filament. These lamps were more efficient than even graphitized carbon filaments and could operate at higher temperatures. Since the metal had a lower resistivity than carbon, the tantalum lamp filament was quite long and required multiple internal supports. The metal filament had the property of gradually shortening in use; the filaments were installed with large loops that tightened in use. This made lamps in use for several hundred hours quite fragile. Metal filaments had the property of breaking and re-welding, though this would usually decrease resistance and shorten the life of the filament. General Electric bought the rights to use tantalum filaments and produced them in the United States until 1913.
From 1898 to around 1905, osmium
was also used as a lamp filament in Europe, but the metal was so expensive that used broken lamps could be returned for part credit. It could not be made for 110 V or 220 V so several lamps were wired in series for use on standard voltage circuits.
In 1906, the tungsten
filament was introduced. Tungsten metal was initially not available in a form that allowed it to be drawn into fine wires. Filaments made from sintered tungsten powder were quite fragile. By 1910, a process was developed by William D. Coolidge at General Electric
for production of a ductile form of tungsten. The process required pressing chemically produced tungsten powder into bars, then several steps of sintering, swaging, and then wire drawing. It was found that very pure tungsten formed filaments that sagged in use, and that a very small "doping" treatment with potassium, silicon, and aluminum oxides at the level of a few hundred parts per million greatly improved the life and durability of the tungsten filaments.
To improve the efficiency of the lamp, the filament usually consists of coils of coiled fine wire, also known as a 'coiled coil.' For a 60-watt 120-volt lamp, the uncoiled length of the tungsten filament is usually 22.8 inches (57.9 cm), and the filament diameter is 0.0018 inch (0.004572 cm). The advantage of the coiled coil is that evaporation of the tungsten filament is at the rate of a tungsten cylinder having a diameter equal to that of the coiled coil. The coiled-coil filament evaporates more slowly than a straight filament of the same surface area and light-emitting power. If the filament is then run hotter to bring back evaporation to the same rate, the resulting filament is a more efficient light source.
There are several different shapes of filament used in lamps, with differing characteristics. Manufacturers designate the types with codes such as C-6, CC-6, C-2V, CC-2V, C-8, CC-88, C-2F, CC-2F, C-Bar, C-Bar-6, C-8I, C-2R, CC-2R, and Axial.
s of fluorescent lamp
s and vacuum tube
s as a source of electron
s or in vacuum tubes to heat an electron-emitting electrode.
Reducing filament evaporationOne of the problems of the standard electric light bulb is evaporation of the filament. Small variations in resistivity along the filament cause "hot spots" to form at points of higher resistivity; a variation of diameter of only 1% will cause a 25% reduction in service life. The hot spots evaporate faster than the rest of the filament, increasing resistance at that point—a positive feedback
that ends in the familiar tiny gap in an otherwise healthy-looking filament. Irving Langmuir
found that an inert gas, instead of vacuum, would retard evaporation. General service incandescent light bulbs over about 25 watts in rating are now filled with a mixture of mostly argon
and some nitrogen
, or sometimes krypton
gas, much more expensive, is used occasionally in small bulbs, such as those for flashlights. Since a filament breaking in a gas-filled bulb can form an electric arc
, which may spread between the terminals and draw very heavy current, intentionally thin lead-in wires or more elaborate protection devices are therefore often used as fuses
built into the light bulb.
More nitrogen is used in higher-voltage lamps to reduce the possibility of arcing.
While inert gas reduces filament evaporation, it also conducts heat from the filament, thereby cooling the filament and reducing efficiency. At constant pressure and temperature, the thermal conductivity of a gas depends upon the molecular weight of the gas and the cross sectional area of the gas molecules. Higher molecular weight gasses have lower thermal conductivity, because both the molecular weight is higher and also the cross sectional area is higher.
Xenon gas improves efficiency because of its high molecular weight,
but is also more expensive,
so its use is limited to smaller lamps.
During ordinary operation, the tungsten of the filament evaporates; hotter, more-efficient filaments evaporate faster. Because of this, the lifetime of a filament lamp is a trade-off between efficiency and longevity. The trade-off is typically set to provide a lifetime of several hundred to 2,000 hours for lamps used for general illumination. Theatrical, photographic, and projection lamps may have a useful life of only a few hours, trading life expectancy for high output in a compact form. Long-life general service lamps have lower efficiency but are used where the cost of changing the lamp is high compared to the value of energy used.
Filament notching describes another phenomenon that limits the life of lamps. Lamps operated on direct current develop random stair-step irregularities on the filament surface, reducing the cross section and further increasing heat and evaporation of tungsten at these points. In small lamps operated on direct current, lifespan may be cut in half compared to AC operation. Different alloys of tungsten and rhenium
can be used to counteract the effect.
If a light bulb envelope leaks, the hot tungsten filament reacts with air, yielding an aerosol of brown tungsten nitride
, brown tungsten dioxide, violet-blue tungsten pentoxide
, and yellow tungsten trioxide
that then deposits on the nearby surfaces or the bulb interior.
Bulb blackeningIn a conventional lamp, the evaporated tungsten eventually condenses on the inner surface of the glass envelope, darkening it. For bulbs that contain a vacuum, the darkening is uniform across the entire surface of the envelope. When a filling of inert gas is used, the evaporated tungsten is carried in the thermal convection currents of the gas, depositing preferentially on the uppermost part of the envelope and blackening just that portion of the envelope. An incandescent lamp that gives 93% or less of its initial light output at 75% of its rated life is regarded as unsatisfactory, when tested according to IEC Publication 60064. Light loss is due to filament evaporation and bulb blackening. Study of the problem of bulb blackening led to the discovery of the Edison effect, thermionic emission
and invention of the vacuum tube
A very small amount of water vapor inside a light bulb can significantly affect lamp darkening. Water vapor dissociates into hydrogen and oxygen at the hot filament. The oxygen attacks the tungsten metal, and the resulting tungsten oxide particles travel to cooler parts of the lamp. Hydrogen from water vapor reduces the oxide, reforming water vapor and continuing this water cycle. The equivalent of a drop of water distributed over 500,000 lamps will significantly increase darkening. Small amounts of substances such as zirconium
are placed within the lamp as a getter
to react with any oxygen that may bake out of the lamp components during operation.
Some old, high-powered lamps used in theater, projection, searchlight, and lighthouse service with heavy, sturdy filaments contained loose tungsten powder within the envelope. From time to time, the operator would remove the bulb and shake it, allowing the tungsten powder to scrub off most of the tungsten that had condensed on the interior of the envelope, removing the blackening and brightening the lamp again.
reduces uneven evaporation of the filament and darkening of the envelope by filling the lamp with a halogen
gas at low pressure, rather than an inert gas. The halogen cycle increases the lifetime of the bulb and prevents its darkening by redepositing tungsten from the inside of the bulb back onto the filament. The halogen lamp can operate its filament at a higher temperature than a standard gas filled lamp of similar power without loss of operating life.
Incandescent arc lampsA variation of the incandescent lamp did not use a hot wire filament, but instead used an arc struck on a spherical bead electrode to produce heat. The electrode then became incandescent, with the arc contributing little to the light produced. Such lamps were used for projection or illumination for scientific instruments such as microscope
s. These arc lamps ran on relatively low voltages and incorporated tungsten filaments to start ionization within the envelope. They provided the intense concentrated light of an arc lamp
but were easier to operate. Developed around 1915, these lamps were displaced by mercury and xenon arc lamp
PowerIncandescent lamps are nearly pure resistive loads with a power factor
of 1. This means the actual power consumed (in watt
s) and the apparent power (in volt-ampere
s) are equal. Incandescent light bulbs are usually marketed
according to the electrical power
consumed. This is measured in watt
s and depends mainly on the resistance
of the filament, which in turn depends mainly on the filament's length, thickness, and material. For two bulbs of the same voltage, type, color, and clarity, the higher-powered bulb gives more light.
The table shows the approximate typical output, in lumens
, of standard incandescent light bulbs at various powers. Note that the lumen values for "soft white" bulbs will generally be slightly lower than for standard bulbs at the same power, while clear bulbs will usually emit a slightly brighter light than correspondingly powered standard bulbs.
Current and resistanceThe actual resistance of the filament is temperature-dependent. The cold resistance of tungsten-filament lamps is about 1/15 the hot-filament resistance when the lamp is operating. For example, a 100-watt, 120-volt lamp has a resistance of 144 ohm
s when lit, but the cold resistance is much lower (about 9.5 ohms). Since incandescent lamps are resistive loads, simple phase-control triac
dimmers can be used to control brightness. Electrical contacts may carry a "T" rating symbol indicating that they are designed to control circuits with the high inrush current characteristic of tungsten lamps. For a 100-watt, 120-volt general-service lamp, the current stabilizes in about 0.10 seconds, and the lamp reaches 90% of its full brightness after about 0.13 seconds.
The watt is a derived unit of power in the International System of Units , named after the Scottish engineer James Watt . The unit, defined as one joule per second, measures the rate of energy conversion.-Definition:...
The lumen is the SI derived unit of luminous flux, a measure of the total "amount" of visible light emitted by a source. Luminous flux differs from power in that luminous flux measurements reflect the varying sensitivity of the human eye to different wavelengths of light, while radiant flux...
Bulb shapesIncandescent light bulbs come in a range of shapes and sizes. The names of the shapes may be slightly different in some regions. Many of these shapes have a designation consisting of one or more letters followed by one or more numbers, e.g. A55 or PAR38. The letters represent the shape of the bulb. The numbers represent the maximum diameter, either in of an inch, or in millimetres, depending on the shape and the region. For example, 63 mm reflectors are designated R63, but in the U.S. they are known as R20 (2.5 in). However, in both regions, a PAR38 reflector is known as PAR38. In Australia an R80 is 1 in in diameter.
- Light emitted in (nearly) all directions. Available either clear or frosted.
- Types: General (A), Mushroom
High Wattage General Service
- Lamps greater than 200 watts.
- Types: Pear-shaped (PS)
- lamps used in chandeliers, etc.
- Types: candle (B), twisted candle, bent-tip candle (CA & BA), flame (F), fancy round (P), globe (G)
Reflector (R): Reflective coating inside the bulb directs light forward. Flood types (FL) spread light. Spot types (SP) concentrate the light. Reflector (R) bulbs put approximately double the amount of light (foot-candles) on the front central area as General Service (A) of same wattage.
- Types: Standard reflector (R), elliptical reflector (ER), crown-silvered
Parabolic aluminized reflector (PAR)
- Parabolic aluminized reflectorParabolic aluminized reflector lightA parabolic aluminized reflector lamp is a type of electric lamp that is widely used in commercial, residential, and transportation illumination. Usage includes locomotive headlamps, aircraft landing lights, and residential and commercial recessed lights...
(PAR) bulbs control light more precisely. They produce about four times the concentrated light intensity of general service (A), and are used in recessed and track lighting. Weatherproof casings are available for outdoor spot and flood fixtures.
- 120 V sizes: PAR 16, 20, 30, 38, 56 and 64
- 230 V sizes: Par 38, 56 and 64
- Available in numerous spot and flood beam spreads. Like all light bulbs, the number represents the diameter of the bulb in of an inch. Therefore, a PAR 16 is 2 in in diameter, a PAR 20 is 2.5 in in diameter, PAR 30 is 3.75 in and a PAR 38 is 4.75 in in diameter.
Multifaceted reflector (MR)
HIR: "HIR" is a GE
designation for a lamp with an infrared reflective coating. Since less heat escapes, the filament burns hotter and more efficiently. The Osram
designation for a similar coating is "IRC".
Lamp basesVery small lamps may have the filament support wires extended through the base of the lamp, and can be directly soldered to a printed circuit board for connections. Some reflector-type lamps include screw terminals for connection of wires. Most lamps have metal bases that fit in a socket to support the lamp and conduct current to the filament wires. In the late 19th century, manufacturers introduced a multitude of incompatible lamp bases. General Electric
introduced standard base sizes for tungsten incandescent lamps under the Mazda
trademark in 1909. This standard was soon adopted across the United States, and the Mazda name was used by many manufacturers under license through 1945. Today most incandescent lamps for general lighting service use an Edison screw
in candelabra, intermediate, or standard or mogul sizes, or double contact bayonet
base. Bayonet base lamps are frequently used in automotive lamps
to resist loosening due to vibration. A bipin
base is often used for halogen or reflector lamps.
Lamp bases may be secured to the bulb with a cement, or by mechanical crimping to indentations molded into the glass bulb.
s that have a partial plastic or even completely glass base. In this case, the wires wrap around to the outside of the bulb, where they press against the contacts in the socket. Miniature Christmas bulbs use a plastic wedge base as well.
Lamps intended for use in optical systems (such as film projectors, microscope illuminators, or stage lighting instruments have bases with alignment features so that the filament is positioned accurately within the optical system. A screw-base lamp may have a random orientation of the filament when the lamp is installed in the socket.
Light output and lifetimeIncandescent lamps are very sensitive to changes in the supply voltage. These characteristics are of great practical and economic importance.
For a supply voltage V near the rated voltage of the lamp:
- Light output is approximately proportional to V 3.4
- Power consumption is approximately proportional to V 1.6
- Lifetime is approximately proportional to V −16
- Color temperature is approximately proportional to V 0.42
This means that a 5% reduction in operating voltage will more than double the life of the bulb, at the expense of reducing its light output by about 20%. This may be a very acceptable trade off for a light bulb that is in a difficult-to-access location (for example, traffic lights or fixtures hung from high ceilings). Long-life bulbs take advantage of this trade-off. Since the value of the electric power they consume is much more than the value of the lamp, general service lamps emphasize efficiency over long operating life. The objective is to minimize the cost of light, not the cost of lamps.
The relationships above are valid for only a few percent change of voltage around rated conditions, but they do indicate that a lamp operated at much lower than rated voltage could last for hundreds of times longer than at rated conditions, albeit with greatly reduced light output. The Centennial Light
is a light bulb that is accepted by the Guinness Book of World Records as having been burning almost continuously at a fire station
in Livermore, California
, since 1901. However, the bulb is powered by only four watts. A similar story can be told of a 40-watt bulb in Texas
that has been illuminated since September 21, 1908. It once resided in an opera house
where notable celebrities stopped to take in its glow, but is now in an area museum
In flood lamps used for photographic
lighting, the tradeoff is made in the other direction. Compared to general-service bulbs, for the same power, these bulbs produce far more light, and (more importantly) light at a higher color temperature, at the expense of greatly reduced life (which may be as short as two hours for a type P1 lamp). The upper temperature limit for the filament is the melting point of the metal. Tungsten is the metal with the highest melting point, 3695 kelvins (6,191.3 °F). A 50-hour-life projection bulb, for instance, is designed to operate only 50 °C (122 °F) below that melting point. Such a lamp may achieve up to 22 lumens per watt, compared with 17.5 for a 750-hour general service lamp.
Lamps designed for different voltages have different luminous efficacy. For example, a 100-watt, 120-volt lamp will produce about 17.1 lumens per watt. A lamp with the same rated lifetime but designed for 230 V would produce only around 12.8 lumens per watt, and a similar lamp designed for 30 volts (train lighting) would produce as much as 19.8 lumens per watt. Lower voltage lamps have a thicker filament, for the same power rating. They can run hotter for the same lifetime before the filament evaporates.
The wires used to support the filament make it mechanically stronger, but remove heat, creating another tradeoff between efficiency and long life. Many general-service 120-volt lamps use no additional support wires, but lamps designed for "rough service" or "vibration service" may have as many as five. Low-voltage lamps have filaments made of heavier wire and do not require additional support wires.
Very low voltages are inefficient since the lead wires would conduct too much heat away from the filament, so the practical lower limit for incandescent lamps is 1.5 volts. Very long filaments for high voltages are fragile, and lamp bases become more difficult to insulate, so lamps for illumination are not made with rated voltages over 300 volts. Some infrared heating elements are made for higher voltages, but these use tubular bulbs with widely separated terminals.
Health issuesAlthough some sources claim fluorescent lighting causes more health problems than incandescent lighting (see Light sensitivity
and Over-illumination for discussion), more research needs to be done in this field. According to the European Commission Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks
(SCENIHR) in 2008, the only property of compact fluorescent lamps that could pose an added health risk is the ultraviolet
and blue light emitted by such devices. The worst that can happen is that this radiation could aggravate symptoms in people who already suffer rare skin conditions that make them exceptionally sensitive to light. They also stated that more research is needed to establish whether compact fluorescent lamps constitute any higher risk than incandescent lamps.
Radio interferenceIncandescent bulbs do not produce significant radio frequency interference, a concern with many other light sources, such as most LED and fluorescent lamps.
- Museum of Electric Lamp Technology
- Howstuffworks - "How Light Bulbs Work"
- Light Source Spectra 60 W-100 W Incandescent light bulb spectra
- Halogen Light Bulbs – Base Identification
- Light Bulbs - Lamps and Tubes - Lamp Bases Explained
- The Perfection of the Electric Light Bulb – background and experiment
- Incandescent Light Bulb's Bulb and Base Types Explained
- Examples of how color temperature of light bulbs affect our surroundings
- An brief article explaing the light bulb - "The Composition of the Light Bulb"
- The history of the light bulb
- BanTheBulb.Org energy efficiency campaign
- Great light bulbs gallery