The Legacy of Lighting Things

Portable Lighting

Humans have had a fascination with light ever since they first stepped, blinking, out into the sun. Imagine it is close to the dawn of human history. The sun is setting in the sky, and the world is plunged into semi-darkness. Without any source of artificial lighting, the landscape is barely lit by soft glow of the moon. In this time, the sun going down meant an end to the day, as early humans would return to their homes to wait for the return of the sun. Without light, the activities of the day had to stop, and early humanity had to huddle in the dark and wait. With the discovery of fire, however, their lives were never the same, as suddenly the night didn’t mean an end to the daily activities, instead it could become a time for gatherings, to spend with the family, or to dance the night away in the glow of a fire. From early fires built in the center of caves, to simplistic clay lamps made with melted animal fat, humans have been finding ways to keep the light from leaving with the sun at night since the beginning of human history.

Archaeologists have found records of fire sites for warmth and light all throughout ancient dig sites across the globe as a kind of once-living proof to human’s need for a somewhat portable sun. Early lighting fixtures were almost exclusively based around fire and reflection, from wall mounted torches to hooded candles. But with the dawn of the industrial revolution and the Victorian era, wood and wax melted away in favor of gas lighting and kerosene lanterns. But these old-fashioned forms of lighting were dirty and dangerous, producing soot and allowing noxious fumes to bleed into the living space. Plus, since the light source still relied on flames for the brightness, the odds of a dangerous fire starting in the home were exponentially higher than today; a costly price to pay for a source of light.

With the invention of the incandescent bulb by Thomas Edison in 1879, the human search for a warm light to huddle around became a whole lot safer to bring into the home. Edison’s invention allowed for light to be brought into the household with the flick of a switch, without having to bother with lighting lanterns and wall fixtures. Now closed spaces and living rooms could be lit without worrying about open flames or dangerous gases, and with electricity becoming less of a luxury and more of a common commodity, electric lighting became an easy way to bring a bit of sunshine safely inside. In the blink of an eye and entire city block could be lit up late into the night without having to light each individual street light. Much like the first discovery of fire, the advent of the light bulb changed the way humans saw the sunset. Now, cities could stay awake late into the night by the glow of electric bulbs. Factories could stay open late into the night without pausing to worry about lighting lamps or candles.

But incandescent bulbs were prone to burning out and breaking if exposed to high or low temperatures, and still ran the risk of electrical fires. They also posed an issue when it came to environmental friendliness, as even though light bulbs are more fuel-efficient than kerosene or gas lanterns, they still require the burning of fossil fuels to create the electricity needed for them to stay lit. With the move from incandescent bulb to the mercury-vapor bulb and LED lights, lighting for your home and workplace became more energy efficient and safer than ever, and with a large array of shapes, sizes, wattage, and design, the human search for light in their life has become as easy as watching the sunrise.