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The Iridescent History of Light

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400,000 years ago, humans and Neanderthals created fire. This ignited a relationship between people and photons that changed the course of mankind—and continues to evolve to this day. Take a tour through the visual history of light in the video above, and read below for further information on the inventions.

13,000 BCE: Humans create primitive animal grease lamps made from hollow rocks and shells, stuffed with moss, and coated in grease. 3,000 BCE: The “rushlight” candle is invented in Ancient Egypt. It is made of a pithy stalk of rush soaked in animal fat. 1500 BCE: Babylonian/Assyrian lamps are created from olive or sesame oil. They had a linen wick and were fashioned from stone, terracotta, metal, or shells. 100 CE: The Romans create the tallow candle, which has a small wick with a thick, hand-formed layer of tallow. 1780 CE: Ami Argand greatly improves the oil lamp, adding a hollow wick and glass chimney. He calls it the Hollow Wick and Burner Lamp. 1792 CE: William Murdoch invents the first coal gas lighting system. 1802 CE: Humphry Davy creates the arc light—the first electric lighting—but it’s way too bright for indoor use. 1853 – 68 CE: Gas becomes popular, but is not accessible to rural areas. These areas turn to kerosene lamps with Dietz burners. 1860 CE: Electric dynamo machines begin powering lighthouses. 1861 CE: Charles Piazzi Smyth mixes gunpowder and magnesium to create the first flash photograph in the King’s Chamber in the Great Pyramid. 1868 CE: Pavel Yablochkov makes dramatic improvements to the arc lamp (parallel carbon rods and alternating current), rendering it efficient, and thus viable. It begins to be used in Paris. 1879 CE: Charles Brush unveils his arc street lighting system in Cleveland. 1880s CE: The first moon towers, or suspended groups of arc lamps, are built all around the United States. Aurora, Illinois is one of the first places to experiment with them. 1901 – 32 CE: Peter Cooper Hewitt demonstrates the mercury-vapor lamp. As a result, General Electric leaves behind filament bulbs for mercury discharge lamps. 1900s CE: Georges Claude passes electricity through a tube of neon, producing a red glow—the first neon light. 1925 CE: Kenjiro Takayanagi demonstrates a CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) television that received images with a 40-line resolution. John Logie Baird successfully transmits a 30-line vertically scanned image this same year. 1929 CE: Hungarian physicist Kálmán Tihanyi invents


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