This week in…1882

Shedding some light on commercial possibilities


In February 1879 Mr Mattieu Williams, a journalist who had helped promote the Starr-King incandescent electric lamp 30 years earlier, wrote in the Journal of Science: ’I have abstained from further meddling with the electric light, because all that I had seen then, and have heard of since, has convinced me that although as a scientific achievement the electric light is a splendid success its practical application to all purposes where cost is a matter of serious consideration is a complete and hopeless failure.’

Three years later, The Engineer was adamant that Williams should give the incandescent light another chance. In an 1882 article, it argued that an exhibition of electric light at Crystal Palace proved that the technology would be a huge success.

’The raison d’être of the exhibition is to show that the electric light is not a failure, and that it daily promises to be as economical as the gas at present supplied,’ it said. ’We refer to a chandelier especially designed and made by Messrs Verity and Sons, of King Street, Covent Garden, for Mr EH Johnson, of the Edison Light Company.’

“I have abstained from any further meddling with the electric light”

The chandelier was made of hammered brass, 15ft high and 9ft wide, with 350 flowers containing Edison electric lights. The wiring, said The Engineer, was relatively simple and the blending of colours very effective. It also reported improvements in the quality of telephones also being exhibited.

’It has been shown that a number of people could receive the same sounds on different instruments, and that conversation can be carried on over the line whilst at the same time the musical sounds of an organ or orchestra are being carried,’ it said.

While The Engineer proved to be right about incandescent lamps, little did it know that light and communication would become so interlinked in the future. As our recent feature on Visible Light Communications shows (see ’Light reading’, The Engineer, 14 February) the two could become far more dependent on each other than first predicted.