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Shedding a little light

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Incandescent bulbs have disappeared from British shelves. This is the result of the EU's upcoming ban on incandescents and the British government's decision not to allow light bulbs to be restocked. (Our government - always so helpful to us.) We may have to use compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). These have a number of disadvantages poorly understood by the bureaucrats so eager to tell us how to live.

Most people believe Thomas Edison invented electric light. In fact, Joseph Swan did.

In 1860 Swan came up with a bulb which used a carbon paper filament in a glass bulb, but it needed a good vacuum and an electrical source. In 1875 Swan tackled the problem again, developed the electric source, used a carbonized cellulose thread as the filament, mastered the vacuum and in 1878 switched on light and received a British patent. Edison, working in America, used Swan's bulb to produce a commercially viable light a year later. The two combined their companies, and Edison, always a PR hound (and a successful inventor in his own right, though not of the light), became famous.

Swan was another one of those ingenious boys who received little schooling but who learned from everything around him. He began working as an apprentice when he was fourteen. His contributions to photography and to electric lighting were recognized with a knighthood.

If only the government had the same practical relationship with the real world as our inventors.

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