Edison completes electric light bulbs thanks to Japanese bamboo

Thomas Alva Edison’s invention of the electric light bulb has filled homes around the world with light at night. Everyone is grateful to him, especially, the Japanese are very reverent to this great inventor. Is there any connection here?

According to The Plani Dealer newspaper in Cleveland, Japanese make up the largest percentage of visitors to Edison’s childhood residence in the village of Milan, Erie County, Ohio (USA).

Edison completes electric light bulbs thanks to Japanese bamboo
The filament light bulb, Edison’s invention.

His admirers are everywhere in this cherry blossom country, but to the citizens of Yawata city in Kyoto prefecture, their feelings for this inventor are deeper. At the shrine of Iwashimizu Hachiman there is a memorial to Edison and at the foot of the mountain below the shrine there is a small shopping mall named “Edison Street” , with a bronze statue of him. The city of Yamata is also a sister town to Milan, where Edison was born, and since the early 1980s, many souvenirs have been exchanged between people in the two places.

Edison began experimenting with the incandescent light bulb in 1878. The lamp emits light by using electricity to heat a thin filament of material, called a filament, until it is hot enough to glow. Many inventors have tried to complete incandescent lamps, but the bulbs they make have very short lifespans or are too expensive to bring to market for large-scale commercialization. Others have too thick a filament that consumes too much electricity, which is not economical.

Finding a good material for the filament was a big problem that Edison finally overcame. He realized that, in order not to consume a lot of energy, he had to find a material with high resistance and to prolong the life of the filament, the material that made it also had to be durable when heated.

Edison realized that to save energy, he had to find a material with high electrical resistance. If the life of the filament is to be extended, the material must also be heat resistant. After testing thousands of materials, from platinum to hair and beard, Edison discovered a filament made of carbon that possessed the characteristics he was looking for.

After experimenting with thousands of materials, from platinum to beards and hair, Edison discovered a filament made of carbon that had the properties he was looking for. He decided to try using carbonized cotton filament. As a result, the bulb stayed on for a record time of 14 hours. Immediately, Edison filed for a patent, in which he described carbon filaments that could be made from different materials such as “flax and cotton fibers, wooden braces, paper rolled in many ways”.

Edison completes electric light bulbs thanks to Japanese bamboo
Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931)

Edison continued to work on other organic materials that he carbonized in the laboratory. He sent his workers to many parts of the world in search of the perfect material for the filament of a light bulb. Edison estimates he has “tested no less than 6,000 species of plants and rummaged around the world for the right filament material.”

One of Edison’s workers, William H. Moore, sent back samples from a bamboo grove near the Iwashimizu Hachiman shrine in Kyoto in 1889. The plant’s scientific name is Phyllostachys bambusoides , derived from China and Japan, often used to make flutes and handicrafts with high artistic value.

It is unclear whether Edison asked Moore to send him any special bamboos, or whether Moore sent them to Edison at his discretion. Either way, Edison has found a species of bamboo that, when carbonized, will produce excellent light bulb filaments.

To form the filaments of light bulbs, bamboo is cut into pieces lengthwise and then split into very thin strands, bent in the shape of a hairpin or curled to fit in the bulb. They are then coated with dried carbon and heated in an oven at extremely high temperatures for hours.

In this process, the bamboo fibers change from their original cellulose structure, into pure carbon, and then into a glass bulb. However, the bamboo filament is only as long as the distance between the eyes of the bamboo filament.

The limited filament length limits the brightness of a carbon fiber bulb. It was no brighter than a candle, but lasted longer than any filament of a light bulb at the time. Some of the bulbs that Edison and his team had had a lifespan of more than 1,200 hours.

Carbon filament became the dominant material in the incandescent bulb factory, until tungsten filament flourished, the bulb had a longer and brighter life. The first tungsten filament bulbs were made by a Hungarian company called Tungsram in 1904. In 1911, Edison’s company, General Electric, switched to tungsten.

Edison died in 1931. Three years later, the Thomas Alva Edison monument was built in the Iwashimizu Hachimangu shrine grounds, on the top of Mount Otokoyama. When Madeleine Edison Sloane, Edison’s daughter, visited the temple in 1964, she was deeply moved when she saw a memorial to her father in a far away country and commented that this was something she had never seen. in U.S.A.

Edison completes electric light bulbs thanks to Japanese bamboo
Edison Memorial in the Iwashimizu Hachiman Shrine grounds.

Every year, on the anniversary of Edison’s birth and death, a festival of lights takes place at the Iwashimizu Hachiman shrine, during which traditional local bamboo lanterns are lit around his memorial to accompany the American national anthem. broadcasted.