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The Real-World Stories Behind Dr. Stone's Inventions




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steelmirror



Joined: 22 Oct 2015
Posts: 338
PostPosted: Fri Feb 07, 2020 4:34 pm Reply with quote
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Around the same time, Edison and his team were busily experimenting with filaments and trying to muscle their competitors out of the electric lighting business. They successfully exploited patents from another inventor named William Sawyer, and even took over Swan's company by 1882. The one major contribution Edison did make to the incandescent light bulb was the implementation of a bamboo filament, which Senku used as well.
It's been a while since I took my history of engineering course in college, but I think this characterization is a bit misleading. Some cursory looks around the internet back my feeling up.

Edison and his team weren't trying to "muscle their competitors out of the business", they were trying to invent a practical light bulb technology that could be mass produced and used in large quantities by normal people. Existing light bulbs at the time (Sawyer's included) used expensive filaments based on platinum and other precious metals, and needed to operate in evacuated vacuum containers, which were very hard and expensive to produce and even more expensive and delicate to maintain.

They didn't really "exploit" Swan's patents (except inasmuch as all scientific breakthroughs are built on the shoulders of giants), they improved upon that expensive and impractical light bulb technology with both a new filament (noted in the article), as well as one which could operate in a nitrogen environment, making it much easier to manufacture and maintain the bulbs for long periods. This was the key innovation which made light bulbs practical for everyday use, and not merely specialized use in industrial or prestige locations.

It is the difference between solar panels of the 50's and 60's which were fundamentally operating on the same principles as those today, but needed much more expensive materials and were far too inefficient. They could be used in some expensive applications, but would never be practical for deploying to millions of homes around the world like modern solar panels are today, with their vastly improved materials science and efficiency.

So yes, more than one person contributed to inventing the light bulb. But the major breakthrough, the one which moved it from an expensive toy for the elite to a ubiquitous feature in billions of homes, was indeed Edison's humble contribution of the (mostly) modern carbon filament light bulb.
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Hiroki not Takuya



Joined: 17 Apr 2012
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 08, 2020 12:35 am Reply with quote
Thanks for this, you are quite correct in the details and I thought the article seemed to be trying to portray Edison as a "ruthless capitalist" or something "stealing" inventions like the Chinese do these days. That would be a gross mischaracterization. Lots of things (like solar panels I wanted to use in 1975 but too $$$) get thought up but have to wait years on other key technological innovations to make them realizable and then practical. It's a fascinating study I encourage people to undertake and maybe Dr. Stone will do that...
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Xavon



Joined: 09 Jan 2007
Posts: 247
Location: Minnesota
PostPosted: Sat Feb 08, 2020 5:31 pm Reply with quote
Penicillin is a mold/fungus. Not a bacteria.
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kotomikun



Joined: 06 May 2013
Posts: 797
PostPosted: Mon Feb 10, 2020 6:45 pm Reply with quote
Hiroki not Takuya wrote:
Thanks for this, you are quite correct in the details and I thought the article seemed to be trying to portray Edison as a "ruthless capitalist" or something "stealing" inventions like the Chinese do these days.

Maybe he deserves more credit for the filament contribution, but the larger issue is that the vast majority of people think he invented the light bulb all on his own from scratch, a belief that isn't his fault but also clearly isn't true. The grandiose ideas a lot of people have about heroic capitalists have a lot to do with myths about a lone genius changing the world all on his own with no input from anyone else. And, apparently, the belief that only the Chinese steal other people's ideas...

For a really strange bit of Edison history, look up his feud with Tesla over DC vs. AC power, involving such oddities as claiming AC is dangerous because it was used to power an electric chair. Ultimately the whole argument was pointless, of course, since these days we need both (AC for long-range transmission and DC for anything computer-related).
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steelmirror



Joined: 22 Oct 2015
Posts: 338
PostPosted: Mon Feb 10, 2020 11:41 pm Reply with quote
kotomikun wrote:
Maybe he deserves more credit for the filament contribution, but the larger issue is that the vast majority of people think he invented the light bulb all on his own from scratch, a belief that isn't his fault but also clearly isn't true. The grandiose ideas a lot of people have about heroic capitalists have a lot to do with myths about a lone genius changing the world all on his own with no input from anyone else.
That's totally legitimate. It's also ironic, because the story of Edison's invention of the modern light bulb also puts the lie to another common trope about "heroic lone inventors": the stroke of genius. Edison didn't suddenly realize one day how to make a better light bulb out of nowhere. He didn't have a carbon filament fall on his head and then run naked through the streets crying "eureka!"

No, he spent thousands of prototypes and years of effort trying every variation he and the other members of his lab could think of, and eventually after that ridiculous amount of effort they were rewarded with a breakthrough that ended up changing the world. It's a very interesting story, and it isn't the story of one man alone of course, but Edison really was an incredibly hard-working and gifted engineer who lived in the right place at the right time, and stole ideas from the right people. That's absolutely worth celebrating in its own right, and you don't need to denigrate or downplay hie legitimate accomplishments to acknowledge where other people fit into the story, as well.

kotomikun wrote:
And, apparently, the belief that only the Chinese steal other people's ideas...
I always find that trope hilarious myself, because of how many fundamental inventions to early civilization came about in China, first. Printing presses, compasses, crossbows, water wheels, paper, paper currency, kites, gunpowder...

Not gonna lie, Chinese businesses steal tech and counterfeit goods all the time (just walk around the right neighborhood in literally any Chinese city to find out), but yeah, they aren't the first and won't be the last to do so.
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