Who Really Invented The Light Bulb? And Other Myths Debunked - Google Arts & Culture (2023)

By Google Arts & Culture

Edison recreates his lamp experiments during Light's Golden Jubilee, 1929 (1929/1929) by General Electric CompanyMuseum of Innovation & Science

Discover the inventions credited to the wrong people

History is not fixed. Here you’ll find a selection of very well known inventions and their origin stories. Somewhere along the way these stories have been warped, changed, or completely rewritten. Luckily, some historians and researchers have worked hard to uncover the real narrative and made sure the right people are credited and celebrated.

Davy Sir Humphry 1778-1829LIFE Photo Collection

An Englishman – not Thomas Edison – created the light bulb

Thomas Edison is credited with inventing a whole host of valuable inventions but the real story behind them often reveals a different pattern of events. It was actually British inventor Sir Humphry Davy who was the first to invent the electric light in 1809.

Davy Sir Humphry 1778-1829LIFE Photo Collection

He made the discovery by connecting two wires to a battery and attaching a charcoal strip between the other end of the wires. The charged carbon glowed making the first arc lamp.

LIFE Photo Collection

Edison’s version wasn’t released until 1877, but his bulbs were better equipped leading to them being better known, pushing Davy’s previous work to the sidelines.

Edison also didn’t invent motion picture

Once again, Edison manages to be credited with another huge invention but doesn’t deserve the praise. It was actually Louis Le Prince, a French artist, who was the inventor of the early motion picture camera. In Leeds, England in 1888 Prince used a single lens camera to shoot 16 pictures a second without blurring the exposure.

While we know some of Prince’s work now, there is a troubling conspiracy surrounding the whole invention and Edison’s claim to fame. In 1890, two years after his achievement, Prince boarded a train bound for Dijon, but disappeared and was never seen again. Years later, during a patent trial for Edison’s motion picture “invention”, Prince’s son was found shot dead in New York. American courts would later dismiss all of Prince’s work.

Monopoly (Darrow Edition) (1933) by Charles DarrowThe Strong National Museum of Play

Elizabeth Magie invented Monopoly 30 years before the classic Parker Brothers’ version

The accepted history of the beloved board game Monopoly has come to symbolize something like The American Dream in a microcosm. The story goes that Charles Darrow, an unemployed designer, invented the game, pitched it to the Parker Brothers company, and thereby became a millionaire himself.

The Landlord's Game (1910) by Elizabeth MagieThe Strong National Museum of Play

In reality, an almost exactly similar game, ‘The Landlord’s Game’, was patented by Elizabeth Magie in 1903. The game was designed to promote progressive economics and act as a warning against the evils of monopolies. Magie never made more than $500 from her invention, and her right to the patents for Monopoly wasn’t uncovered until the 1970s.

20-Chien-Shiung-WuNational Women's Hall of Fame

Chien-Shiung Wu’s scientific contributions to the atomic bomb were ignored

During World War II nuclear physicist Chien-Shiung Wu was recruited to work on the Manhattan Project in the development of the atomic bomb. Fast forward to the 1950s and Wu began working with theoretical physicists, Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang, who wanted her help in disproving the law of parity. The law said that there was “a fundamental symmetry in the behavior of everything in nature, including atomic particles.”

The Atomic Bomb Dropped on Hiroshima (1945-08-06/1945-08-06)Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

Although Wu’s colleagues had developed the theory to disprove the law, it was actually Wu who created and conducted the experiments that served as proof. In 1957, Lee and Yang both received the Nobel Prize for their work, but Wu’s contribution was completely ignored. Despite outrage by Wu’s peers, the decision to exclude Wu from the prize was never changed.

Lise Meitner at the Lindau MeetingLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Lise Meitner’s work on nuclear fission was forgotten due to being in exile

Austrian physicist Lise Meitner was integral to the discovery of nuclear fission. In the early 20th century, after moving to Germany, she began a long partnership with chemist Otto Hahn. When Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Meitner was forced to flee because she was of Jewish descent. She eventually settled in Sweden and continued to collaborate with Hahn from afar. In Berlin, Hahn’s team conducted experiments that would prove to be the evidence for nuclear fission, but it was Meitner and her nephew (Otto Frisch) who ultimately described the theory and coined the term, “nuclear fission”.

Hahn-Meitner-Straßmann-table, the fission of atomic nuclei (1930/1939) by Otto Hahn, Fritz Strassmann, Lise Meitner, BerlinDeutsches Museum

When Hahn published the discovery, he left Meitner out of it. It’s thought this might be due to rising tensions caused by Nazi Germany as she was of Jewish heritage – yet the real reason remains unknown. Regardless, Hahn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1944 for the discovery of nuclear fission and Meitner’s contribution was not acknowledged. After scientists realised that nuclear fission could be used as a weapon Meitner was invited to work on the same Manhattan Project as Wu to develop the atomic bomb. She refused, stating: “I will have nothing to do with a bomb!”

Tesla on Arrival to AmericaNikola Tesla Museum

Nikola Tesla was the real inventor of the radio

In the 1890s, both Guglielmo Marconi and Nikola Tesla were fighting to develop the radio, but it is Marconi’s efforts that are remembered. Tesla actually received more of the early patents for the technology; in 1897 he filed for and was granted the first radio patent, which became the basis for much of his future work, including radio-controlled boats, torpedoes, and radio frequency feedback.

Tesla's Laboratory in Long IslandNikola Tesla Museum

His developments in radio dates back beyond Marconi's announcement of radio technology as his "invention" but Marconi is more commonly credited with inventing the radio because he was able to take all these technologies and turn them into a commercial product.

LIFE Photo Collection

Galileo Galilei did not invent the telescope

Italian astronomer, physicist, and engineer Galileo Galilei is credited with many inventions and discoveries including the telescope. Yet most historians agree that it was actually Dutch spectacle maker Hans Lippershay who had been making magnification devices using the improved quality of glassmaking of the time.

H. Lippershey, printer's sample for the World's Inventors souvenir album (A25) for Allen & Ginter Cigarettes (1888) by Allen & GinterThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

Supposedly, Galileo had heard about these and decided to build his own, making some improvements in the process. One of the reasons why Galileo was credited with inventing the telescope is because he was the first person to use these new optics as a scientific instrument, which is where the real value was added.

Telephone (Prima metà dell'Ottocento) by Antonio Meucci; foto di Filippo ManziniTeatro della Pergola | Fondazione Teatro della Toscana

Antonio Meucci created a working telephone decades before Bell

There’s a lot of controversy and intrigue surrounding the invention of the telephone. Alexander Graham Bell is often credited as the inventor of the telephone since he was awarded the first successful patent. However, Antonio Meucci also developed a talking telegraph, called the ‘teletrofono’. Around 11 years later (still five years before Bell’s phone came out), Meucci filed a temporary patent on his invention in 1871. But in 1874, he failed to send in the $10 necessary to renew his patent.

LIFE Photo Collection

Two years after that, Bell registered his telephone patent. Meucci attempted to sue him by retrieving the original sketches and plans he sent to a lab at Western Union, but the record had conveniently disappeared. Controversially, Bell was working at the very same Western Union lab where Meucci swore he sent his original sketches. The Italian inventor died, never profiting from his invention and faded away into obscurity, while Bell claimed full credit.

Explore more:

It's Time To Remember The Forgotten Women Scientists of History

Who Are The Young Scientists of The Future?

Credits: All media

The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.

Deutsches MuseumHiroshima Peace Memorial MuseumLIFE Photo CollectionLindau Nobel Laureate MeetingsNEMO Science MuseumNational Women's Hall of FameNikola Tesla MuseumTeatro della Pergola | Fondazione Teatro della ToscanaThe Metropolitan Museum of ArtThe Strong National Museum of Play

Stories from these collections

Online ExhibitHow We Ride: A History of Play on Two WheelsThe Strong National Museum of Play
Online ExhibitTHE LADY OF THE THEATRETeatro della Pergola | Fondazione Teatro della Toscana
Online ExhibitA Short Story Of VaccinationDeutsches Museum
Online ExhibitGas for everyone NEMO Science Museum
Online ExhibitHistory of the Lindau Nobel Laureate MeetingsLindau Nobel Laureate Meetings
Online ExhibitRecalling the Lost NeighborhoodsHiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
Online ExhibitRevolution in the field: Tesla’s AC motorNikola Tesla Museum
Online ExhibitBefore Yesterday We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period RoomThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

Explore more

Related theme

Once Upon a Try

A journey of invention and discovery with CERN, NASA, and more than 100 museums around the world

View theme


Who Really Invented The Light Bulb? And Other Myths Debunked - Google Arts & Culture? ›

Answer and Explanation: No, Albert Einstein did not invent the light bulb. The light bulb was invented by Thomas Edison in the 19th century. Einstein's work with light was his discovery of the photon in 1905 which explained the behavior of light as a wave and a particle.

Who actually invented the light bulb? ›

Did Albert Einstein actually invent the lightbulb? ›

Answer and Explanation: No, Albert Einstein did not invent the light bulb. The light bulb was invented by Thomas Edison in the 19th century. Einstein's work with light was his discovery of the photon in 1905 which explained the behavior of light as a wave and a particle.

Who invented the light bulb so people could see in the dark? ›

In many textbooks, Thomas A. Edison is solely credited with inventing the modern incandescent light bulb after 10,000 attempts.

Did Warren de la Rue invent the lightbulb? ›

This is considered to be the first light bulb. 1840: Warren de la Rue put a coiled platinum filament inside a sealed vacuum tube. He created a long-lasting light, but it was far too expensive. 1875: Henry Woodward and Matthew Evans patented the light bulb, which was basically the same as that of three decades before.

What is the dark side of Thomas Edison? ›

"The war of the electric currents is the dark side of Thomas Edison. The tactic that Edison took was to persuade people that alternating current was the killer current." Jill Jonnes, historian. Edison becomes obsessed with discrediting Tesla.

Who were the two inventors of the light bulb? ›

Joseph Swan, alongside Thomas Edison, is the person most credited with the invention of the light bulb. The Sunderland-born chemist created the first successful incandescent filament electric lamp and gave public demonstrations of it in late 1878 and early 1879.

What did Einstein believe about light? ›

Einstein believed light is a particle (photon) and the flow of photons is a wave. The main point of Einstein's light quantum theory is that light's energy is related to its oscillation frequency.

How many times did the man who invented bulb try? ›

One of the most famous is Thomas Edison, credited with inventing the carbon telephone transmitter, light bulb, and phonograph. In fact, it took 1,000 unsuccessful attempts before he created the first light bulb.

Did George Washington Carver invent the lightbulb? ›

Like George Washington Carver, Thomas Edison often gets improper credit. Edison is well-known for inventing the light bulb.

How did people see in the dark before electricity? ›

Indoors, people used candles and oil lamps, of course. Beeswax candles were the best if you could afford them–although most people couldn't. Ordinary people made do with rush lights or tallow. Tallow — smoky, smelly animal fat — was poured into a reservoir of some sort that contained a textile wick.

Who invented the light bulb that glowed for a long time and did not burn out? ›

The inventor Thomas Alva Edison experimented with thousands of different filaments to find just the right materials to glow well and be long-lasting. In 1879, Edison discovered that a carbon filament in an oxygen-free bulb glowed but did not burn up for 40 hours.

How did people light dark places before the invention of the lightbulb? ›

The less wealthy commonly lit their houses with stinking, smoky, dripping tallow candles which gave out very little light. The poor mostly used even feebler and fast-burning rushlights, usually dipped in smelly animal fat. The average 40cm rushlight only burned for about an hour.

Did Thomas Edison or Nikola Tesla invent the lightbulb? ›

Nikola Tesla did not help invent the light bulb. Thomas Edison received a patent for his light bulb with a carbon filament in 1879, before Tesla was in the United States. Tesla did work on a system for street lights that used arc lamps. Although Tesla completed the project, his work was never actually used.

Who invented light bulb 99 times? ›

Thomas Edison
BornThomas Alva EdisonFebruary 11, 1847 Milan, Ohio, U.S.
DiedOctober 18, 1931 (aged 84) West Orange, New Jersey, U.S.
Burial placeThomas Edison National Historical Park
EducationSelf-educated; some coursework at Cooper Union
10 more rows

Who invented the everlasting light bulb? ›

History. The Centennial Light was originally a 30-watt (or 60-watt) bulb, but is now very dim, emitting about the same light as a 4-watt nightlight. The hand-blown, carbon-filament common light bulb was invented by Adolphe Chaillet, a French engineer who filed a patent for this technology.

Was Nikola Tesla the true inventor of the light bulb? ›

Who invented the light bulb Tesla or Edison? Whilst Thomas Edison does, rightfully so, get some 'heat' for 'stealing' many of Nikola Tesla's inventions and developments, the light bulb is not one of them. In fact, Tesla spent little, if any, of his time, developing incandescent electrical lighting of any kind.

How many times did Thomas fail? ›


As an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, "How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?"

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Cheryll Lueilwitz

Last Updated: 13/12/2023

Views: 5947

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (74 voted)

Reviews: 89% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Cheryll Lueilwitz

Birthday: 1997-12-23

Address: 4653 O'Kon Hill, Lake Juanstad, AR 65469

Phone: +494124489301

Job: Marketing Representative

Hobby: Reading, Ice skating, Foraging, BASE jumping, Hiking, Skateboarding, Kayaking

Introduction: My name is Cheryll Lueilwitz, I am a sparkling, clean, super, lucky, joyous, outstanding, lucky person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.