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Carbon-Arc Light as the Electric Light of 1870

Article in International Journal of Sciences · January 2014
DOI: 10.18483/ijSci.581


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Amelia Carolina Sparavigna
Politecnico di Torino


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during the 19th century the electric electric illumination was based on carbon-arc lamps. 1. such illumination had the About 1870. The third light is the Alden assumed the editorship in 1869 . 2. About 1870. and published by Harper’s Magazine in the August Issue of that year. an immense amount of useful and of lime. which produce light by an electrical discharge through an ionized gas. is a perfect account of the situation. continuity in a circuit . which raises its temperature becoming entertaining reading matter" [3]. electric lighting was based on carbon-arc devices powered by magneto-electric generators. for positive and negative poles. amelia. the electric illumination was based on same fundamental problems of our lamps. the An essay is quite relevant for this purpose. from this nice Harper’s essay. History of Engineering. until 1919 . Politecnico di Torino. From this Abbott’s essay.18483/ijSci. we immediately think of the artificial lighting produced by incandescent and gas-discharge lamps. who contributed on several other subjects filament heated by electric current. Keywords: History of Physics. This is the common form of artificial Henry James and Mark Twain. However. its important essayists included electric current. In the following. with light given by a Abbott. also known as the use of woodcut illustrations [2].Harper's steered away from We can define the electric light as the illumination mass popularity and became a selected magazine [3]. which were rather different from the lamps we are using today. connected respectively with magazine was well known during its early years. The Abbott's essay on Electric Light a prolific author of juvenile fiction that devoted some In his paper [4]. When Henry Mill intensely luminescent. and brought to within a the serialization of great English novels and for the short distance of each other”. with two main families of technology. we report some parts the articles in magazines and journals of that period. Harper’s was also the light is that created by a carbon-arc lamp. 1 Department of Applied Science and Technology. However. That is. system based on lamps producing light by the flow of From 1870 to 1920. we start our discuss of the electric lighting system of the 19th century. The aim of the Drummond Light. Carbon-Arc Light. lamps. We find an interesting and detailed description of this technology in an essay written by Jacob Abbott. Italy Abstract: When asked to define the electric light. He called the first the Electric Light. that is. physics. publisher in New York City. as we will discuss Reading “The Electric Light” [4]. and gas-discharge too. lamps had a rather different form. the carbon-arc lamps and magneto-electric devices. This light is given by The Harper’s Magazine was launched in June 1850 passing an electric current “across a break of by Harper & Brothers. methods for producing an artificial light.the break being formed by as the Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. it is entitled “The engineering and the use of innovative technologies Electric Light” and was published in the August 1870 for a society that was experiencing the Second Issue of the Harper's Magazine. we learn that the in this paper. the electric lamps had a rather different DOI: 10. The two points of charcoal. The second first American periodical to introduce the extensive is the Lime or Calcium Light. an American writer of children's books. Introduction for 50 years. the electric fine quality of its own essays. This essay was written by Jacob Abbott (1803-1879).581 . in its layout. literary and opinion periodicals in the United States. This light is produced by publisher was that of giving to the "great mass of the projecting an oxyhydrogen flame upon a small piece American people. one of the oldest Industrial Revolution. some essays were written by Jacob devices: incandescent lamps. because it Abbott’s text is connecting. On science and lighting in our society.he was editor  d002040@polito. We need of a source of power and a network for its can outline the main features of this technology using distribution. Electromagnetism. But in the past. Abbott defined three different of his works to the popularization of science [1].

we find that in the Figure 1 it is represented the electrodes after used for a while. burned away. In other words. which is set into an would. the “luminous globules seen attached to the cones are the results of the fusion of earthy impurities contained in the charcoal” [4]. without it . and to describe the operation of conducting wire produces a more powerful magnetic each in its turn. the electro-magnet receives a to control the voltaic arc. as the extremities were gradually passing over the pulley and acting as a counterpoise. or other means. The gradual wasting of the tips would gradually increase the distance between them. In describing this contrivance. And it was electromagnetic coil. But. and the cylinder is nearer the charcoal tips are to each other the more drawn down again.the intensity of the light held in an iron tube. Let us http://www. for inducing and maintaining a constant flow of electricity. not in bringing the charcoal point back to the electro-magnet. reproduced in the left part approaches the upper point again. that the movement should be down within the coil. and practice … that the result is a steadily maintained arranging the apparatus in such a manner that the equilibrium. which is used for photographic purposes. to draw the lower cylinder down. which dates back as far as 1848 [6]. 1: There must be a battery. in any case. and the counterpoise raises it up. It is only about the first of these three lights that Abbott writes: the electric light produced by the voltaic arc between charcoal tips. moreover. which tends means” [4].that is. its place when it gets out of it. constantly vary. But. time a great difficulty. that the increasing distance the attractive force exerted by the coil and the weight between the points. should correct itself . and so allow the point to be brought up nearer by means of a counterpoise” [4].that is. In Reference In the right part of Figure 1.Carbon-Arc Light as the Electric Light of 1870 Magnesium Light. The writer explains Figure 1: Reproduction of the engraved illustrations that to “accomplish this last object was for a long showing the carbon-arc lamp and its “points” [4]. In the Figure 1. causing a gradual consumption of charcoal at the Archereau's lamp was one of the oldest carbon-arc positive pole. the magnetic force. which would be anything but to regulate the distance between the points. and therefore there is the necessity of a regulation. But it is found in connecting one of them with an electro-magnet. gives in a simple form the method used electricity is increased. the impression might easily be left on field in the iron rod or bar which the wire is made to the mind of the reader that the result would be a encompass. This tube can move up and necessary. of course. A inasmuch as we are obliged to speak of these two more abundant flow of electricity along the forces separately. we see the two points of 5. “on an increase of the distance dependent on a mechanism controlled by other between the points. without some method of keeping the break in the In the Figure 1. as soon as it An engraving illustration. 2: There must be conductive wires leading to the small charcoal cylinders where light is produced. narrowing of the interval shall increase the power of practically. by indicative of steadiness in the light. a French scientist. “It is obvious that this gives us the power series of oscillations. magnet. abundant is the flow of electricity between Volume 3 – October 2014 (10) 2 . This is “occasioned partly by the lamps. But. being in equilibrium between automatic . is diminished. the flow of of Figure 1. the mechanism acts.and not be We have then that. 3: There must be an apparatus for moving one of the charcoal cylinders to keep the distance between the two tips the same.ijSciences. Abbott starts his article telling that there are several forms and methods of arrangement of the apparatus used for lighting. Abbott explains that apparatus that served as a basis for numerous other the necessity for a constant regulation of the distance combinations and that was developed by Henri between charcoal tips is because the current is Adolphe Archereau (1819-1893). but in preventing it while increasing the interval shall weaken the from getting out of its place at all” [4]. and partly by the transmission of incandescent particles through the air to the negative pole” [4]. and thereby draw the point away. we see the lower charcoal cylinder circuit always the same . The principle is that the fresh accession to its power. the essential things are the same. combustion of it.

wire passing across the bar at right angles. another current in a contrary and receding from them with great rapidity. because the light in carbon-arc lamps only shines while the current is passing: “a slow motion of the coils over the poles of the magnet would produce only a series of flashes. although the central cylinder. If now the bobbin be as the poles of the magnets. succeed each other with succession” [4]. and. speed of the rotation of the cylinder bearing the bobbins” [4]. a current of electricity is instituted. The direction will be produced in the wire. … The consequence is that a series of electrical impulses is machine. during the moment of the change. but. seven of these magnets in each range. is arranged around a hollow cylinder. however. it is necessary a high speed. Then. by means of a magneto-electric arrangement . and to induce and sustain this requires the constant expenditure of force in some other form. each for causing a great number of such coils as are above impulse being in the opposite direction from the one described alternately to approach to and recede from preceding it. an electric current on causing the inner cylinder to revolve.Carbon-Arc Light as the Electric Light of 1870 remember that charcoal is a material consisting of carbon and ashes. if a we have a set of coils. then. All that it is necessary. In another engraving (see the Figure inconceivable rapidity . Thus. like that of the French company Alliance.ijSciences. Of course. by brought in rapid succession into close proximity to means of the two ends. In the center. almost instantaneous in the poles of powerful magnets. for or bobbin. thus made is brought the reader to understand is that they are so placed that suddenly up to any strong magnet. with perceptible intervals between them. After the description of the carbon-arc lamp. The principle on which a magneto-electric photograph in Figure 3) has eight ranges of magnets machine. system of permanent magnets . the force is supplied by the consumption of the zinc. “The precise arrangement of short. as the French call it. round bar of iron is wound with an iron wire. and the coil fully Volume 3 – October 2014 (10) 3 . an arrangement for the development of electricity by means of a rapid succession of magnetic changes produced through the Figure 3: A photograph of the magneto-electric revolution of a series of electro-magnets within a Alliance machine of 1870 (Courtesy: Wikipedia). On the Abbott is also telling that one “of the most curious left of this image. In the case of an ordinary galvanic battery. in a conducting there is a revolving cylinder.the rapidity depending on the 2). in very rapid respect to duration. we can see the carbon-arc lamp. alternately approaching to suddenly withdrawn. These currents. “To produce this light there must be a constant and powerful electric current. bearing http://www.that is. There are its magnetic state. obtained by removing water and other volatile constituents from animal and vegetation substances. and striking illustrations of the modern doctrine of the correlation of force is shown in this instrument by the fact that. upon this cylinder. Abbott discussed the supply of the needed electric current. Figure 2: Reproduction of the engraved illustration showing the magneto-electric machine [4]. is simply a mechanical arrangement given in the wires coiled around the bars. the mechanism connected with these coils cannot be the two ends of the wire being left free. the magneto-electric generator is shown. and the result is a uniform and continuous emission of a most intense and brilliant beam” [4].the force is supplied by a steam-engine. or by the muscular power of a The machine illustrated in the Figure 2 (see a man” [4]. which may be the bars which form the cores of the bobbins are made manifest through proper observations. the eye can no longer take cognizance of the interruptions. the ends of is for the instant induced in the wire. with the poles created is the following: “when a bar of iron changes turned toward the axis of the cylinder. it is usually an impure form of carbon. by means of a slow pyrolysis. It is found that by giving the cylinder a speed sufficient to produce about two hundred electric impulses in a second.

namely.Carbon-Arc Light as the Electric Light of 1870 the bobbins. It is very different when employed for purposes of general used for this purpose in Paris. electricity was a phenomenon the electric microscope [4]. thus a contrivance for converting mechanical force into electricity. Arc lamps Abbott is describing very well these electric lamps and their control feedback system. in the early through the night. penetrating power in misty and foggy states of the like source. The experiment was perfectly successful in from 1878 [7]. The probability is microscope and magic lantern. Humphry Davy. as shown by the jars on the floor and economical mode of illuminating large public (see Figure 4).ijSciences. has been discovered. that resulting from an employing magneto-electric machines. to have an “electric microscope”. by mechanical power. it really requires a two. and has thus been peculiar effect” [4]. “although the electric light atmosphere.000 cells to create a 4-inch arc between two charcoal sticks [7]. confined to physics experiments and used for telegraphy and entertainment.was Russian engineer Paul Yablochkov. to be worked almost inappreciable friction. http://www. In 1807. invented the first arc lamp. because the light is produces by an electric arc. We know them as “arc lamps”. However. also called “voltaic arc”. when the only mode of procuring the work which is required to be done. and in which influences have to be overcome by force. When suitable electric generators became available. It has electric agencies in their action upon each other. the carbon-arc lamps time required for the work. the practical and commercial use of electricity for illumination began [7]. because of the strong convection flow of air. and then from electricity into light” For what concerns the lighthouses and signal lights [4]. and it is by no means certain that it microscope. in the late 1870s. This trial was made. This illumination system was used enabling the workmen to continue their labors until the incandescent light superseded it. He mounted his electrodes horizontally and noted that. and on bearings so delicate as to call light was accordingly found to be quite expensive. at Paris and street lighting of Paris and other European cities (1853). using a battery of 2. been tried in mines. previously. the turning of which seems to be all the however. It is also found to be well fitted for the rivals in brilliance that of the Volume 3 – October 2014 (10) 4 . between electrodes. Another engraving is that the employment of it for these and other uses will showing a manner of employing it for the greatly increase. produces the current. and light-houses. which makes the contrast of light light from the masthead of a ship. halls” [4]. He constructed it. the arc formed the shape of an arch. He coined the term "arch lamp". on board ships. Let us consider Figure 4: Reproduction of the illustration showing that. the appearance is production of stage effects in operas and theatres. 3.Abbott continues . on account of the extreme concentration this country. The machine is character requiring night labor” [4]. on board ships. that is. and in thus greatly diminishing the 20th century. and the mounted. and also in the construction of such this force is precisely that represented by the light works on land and in the open air as are of an urgent developed at the break in the circuit. The resistance emergencies in which this light can be comes from certain influences of the magnetic and advantageously used are rapidly multiplying. and therefore. apparently for the exercise of only a very slight force Since then the much more economical mode of to make it revolve. may not in the end be found to be the most effective A galvanic battery. It has also been employed as a signal of the radiant point. attracting great feature is rendering it remarkably suitable for the attention from all who beheld it. Abbott tells that the electric light is “admirably adapted on account of its great The intense light produced by such lamps has a point. in caverns. is so nicely necessary electric power was by a battery. As remarked by Abbott. and to some extent in illumination. and the horse power to work the machine. this displayed in New York Harbor. in large building in the building of the bridge of Notre Dame. in one of the and shade so sharp and decisive as to produce a very steamers of the French line. which became "arc lamp" when the device came into common usage (see [8] and references therein). The new generators “The first attempt to employ the electric light in the powered the carbon-arc lamps invented by the construction of public works . famous British inventor and leading chemist of his day.

a magneto-electric explained in [10]. which was suitable for driving arc lamps. Between the electrodes. is a device that uses connected in an electric circuit. This device gave In the Figure 5. the arc proper. formed. In the Abbott’s essay. The negative carbon becomes pointed at the same that the positive one is hollowed out to form the crater. crater of the arc. and searchlights. named Alliance. magneto established its small market niche as lighting generator. to a galvanic battery. replacing the rotor coils Figure 5: The arc between carbon terminals [10. whereas Xenon is used for the lamps that replaced the the upper carbon becomes positive and negative carbon-arc lamps in many of their applications. output. Suppose two carbon rods generator. It was a British- French company. that were appreciated for and in particular from the part of it known as the their simplicity and reliability [12. the only between the tips. the positive point-like source. In extra rotor disks were stacked axially on the axle the Figure 5. Neon is used commonly in fluorescent tubes. we see a direct-current arc. Today. stage lighting. created and the arc itself form the source of light. because this was still inadequate. 5% of the light emitted when pure carbon electrodes until after World War II. and we have that both electrodes giving off the same amount of light and being consumed at 4. there is a band of violet 1ight. The arc proper does not furnish more than movie projectors. As the flux available was prevent the formation of the voltaic Volume 3 – October 2014 (10) 5 . the several when maintained by a direct current [10] and a poles of the machine were providing a smoother photograph of it [11]. or simply “magneto”. and therefore. The French engineer Auguste de Méritens improved magnetos further [13]. we see the general appearance of an arc [12]. lamps and society a different shape. with a “ring wound” armature (see the Figure 6). The crater gives from 80 to 85% of the light. If alternating current is used.13]. The reason is the following. we see that the two tips are represented with 5.500 °C (the sublimation point of the carbon is 3642 °C). we have that magnetos (see Figure 3) were produced by a company. many poles. Compared to the bipolar dynamo. such alternately. The possibility was to increase the field by using more incandescence of the materials across which the arc is magnets. from eight horseshoe until the distance between the rods be not too great to magnets arranged in a ring. previously wound on individual bobbins.ijSciences. the generator used separate the tips again. In [10]. the circuit will not be broken. The electric arc about the same rate [10]. electrodes through an inert gas contained in a glass that is the arc produced when the lamp is connected bulb. and the circuit closed permanent magnets to produce alternating current. This crater has a temperature of from 3. In the direct-current arc. which is closing the circuit. Magneto generators.11]. most of the best remembered today for his generators specifically light is coming from the tip of the positive electrode. Auguste de Méritens is arrow and signs. This company was founded by the Belgian electrical engineer Floris Nollet. and there is no chance for a crater to be as movie projectors and searchlights [9]. Let us discuss the electric arc in more detail.Carbon-Arc Light as the Electric Light of 1870 remained involved in limited applications. the current is assumed as passing larger output currents. with the name “Société de l'Alliance” [12]. In the Figure 1. which produce light by an arc between metal In the Figures 1 and 5. To by touching the tips of the rods together. It is this arc limited by the magnet metallurgy [12]. carbon being consumed about twice as rapidly as the negative. it is told that carbon rods are properties of giving a high intensity white light with a consumed by the passage of the current. designed for lighthouses. The engineer Frederick Hale Holmes (c 1840-1875) continued Nollet’s works on generators suitable for lighthouse illumination. because of their specific are used. When we achieve an adequate output power. the term “arc lamp” refers to gas discharge lamps. which were more from the top carbon to the bottom one as indicated by advantageous for arc lamps. This electrode is also incandescent but not like the positive carbon. which is surrounded by a luminous zone of a golden yellow http://www. such as color [10]. usually sixteen.000 to 3. However. as As described by Abbott.

team of Elihu Thomson and Edwin J. Houston. patent protection of arc-lighting the magnetic field. This for the mass-production of steel. Of course. However. we find an assertion that we can use to tubes. century until World War I. we have the expansion patents on direct current generation and distribution. Brush's principal competitor was the developed by James Clerk Maxwell (1865) [22]. and that it control slowed the expansion of the incandescent culminated in early factory electrification. This phenomenon is described by the Faraday's focusing on the problem of improving dynamo. or moving the coil into or out of In the United States. production of an electromotive force across a conductor when it is exposed to a varying magnetic In the United States. Ohio [8]. of iron and steel production and of the and this blocked further expansion of Thomson. immediately applied his dynamo to carbon-arc lighting for the Public Square in Cleveland. Brush established the Brush Electric magnetic field is linked with a coil. manufacturing company in the United States [8. resolving arc lamp and dynamo patent The Abbott’s essay on electric light assumes a greater disputes between them. The neon signs were the first commercial conclude this article: it tells that inventions and applications of these tubes. D.15]. Thomson-Houston bought out the Brush 7. During the Electric Company. among them. the replaced the rotor coils with a ring wound armature. The change in magnetic field spread quickly. roles. we have the innovations of the Second Industrial Revolution were Nikola Tesla's neon lamp signs that were first based on the products of the engineering sciences. the first inexpensive process controlled key patents to urban lighting Volume 3 – October 2014 (10) 6 . McFarlan Moore gave a previously obtained by the physics and chemistry http://www. the Franklin Institute discovery in 1831. Carbon-arc communications. Discussion Company. The development of neon signs in Europe is credited to Georges Claude and the first public display of a neon sign was in December of 1910 at the Paris Expo and first commercial signs were sold in 1912 [18. It was also the Houston. Some scholars consider Around the turn of the century. also known as the Technological Revolution [23]. and. In 1876 [14]. the two companies merged to form beginning of a larger use of electricity and electrical the General Electric Company [8. Brush to publish the results of his experiments [21]. arc lamps evolved in the glowing gas In [24]. to use law of induction. By 1890. the Thomson. an electromotive Company while the usage of his electric arc light force is induced in it. Charles F. mass lighting system developed by Thomas Edison and his production and production line [24].15]. Electromagnetic induction The magneto-electric generator described by Abbott Figure 6: The French engineer Auguste de Méritens is based on the electromagnetic induction. 6. The Faraday’s Law tells that when a changing In 1880. of the use lamps were superseded by filament lamps in main of internal combustion engines and petroleum. policy of buyout and merge with competitors. However. remaining in certain niche applications. Brush Humphry Davy’s pupil. importance if we see it positioned at the beginning of Houston company was the dominant electrical the Second Industrial Revolution. This company magnetic and electric agencies in their action upon protected its new patent rights and had an aggressive each other”. named after Michael Faraday. In 1889. may be obtained by moving a magnet towards or away from the coil. as remarked in [25]. use of machinery in manufacturing. In 1892. but Thomson-Houston Bessemer steel (1856). the electrical engineers began field. displayed at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair [17-19]. the arc-lighting industry became highly about the dynamical theory of electromagnetic fields competitive [8]. of railroads. of the when Abbott is mentioning the “influences of the Thomson-Houston Electric Company. Conversely.19]. but Faraday was the first found that the Brush’s device was the best.ijSciences.Carbon-Arc Light as the Electric Light of 1870 demonstration of his results in developing glowing lamps [20]. that is. A detailed discussion of the carbon arc lamps that was a period ranging from the second half of the 19th had been developed in this period is available in [16]. producing “the daylight in a tube” and disclosing in this manner a lighting system never seen before. we find the Faraday’s systems and improved dynamos proved difficult and law in the Abbott’s essay. the arc-lighting that this period began after the introduction of the system was declining. a them for arc lamps. Edison controlled Second Industrial Revolution. these results were deeply linked to those Later in 1897. This revolution. who is credited with its built his first dynamo. but there is also something as a result. In 1877. Joseph Henry discovered conducted a comparative test of dynamo systems and induction independently too.

[1] Chisholm.Aa. [19] Sparavigna. Harper’s Magazine. A. pp. [14] Vv. J. [11] Child. Arc lamp. J. (1977). Available at Society of London. (1987). New York. Then. No. The electric light. J. New York. (2003). Dynamo. Second Industrial Revolution. Arc lamp. 205-206. www. [7] Vv. (2014). (2014). Wikipedia. Electric arc lamps. E. E. Electrical World & Engineer. [22] Maxwell. References Harper & Brothers. America by design: Science. London and New York. and this is emerging from the words of the and the rise of corporate capitalism. Education. Encyclopaedia [17] Tesla. (2014). (2013). Abbott Jacob.D. Philadelphia. Electrical installations. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal it. Cambridge University Press. New the role of new scientific discoveries in literature. construction and working. The New York Times.Aa. (2014).1. (1912). technology. and Building. The electric arc. August Magneto (generator). pp.gutenberg. The great round world and what is going on in electromagnetic field. & Lustgarten. Vol. Carpentry.Aa. (2014).III.Aa. 15. Daylight seen in tubes: McFarlan Moore electricity.pop-ph]. Physics in Carnacki’s investigations: [5] Houston. 245-258. [21] Vv. D. [8] Vv. May 28. Journal of Literature and Arts. [10] Vv. London. their principle. (1883). reproduced in the Twenty First Century Books.C.Aa.C. Vol. Wikipedia. [6] Hospitalier. Harper’s Magazine.. Ed. Electric lighting. Oxford University Abbott’s essay too. Wikipedia. we can see the Second Industrial [13] Kennedy. J. Encyclopaedia of the Essay. The unbound Prometheus: Technical between different electrodes in various environments and their change and industrial development in Western Europe from 1750 explanation. [24] Vv. (2014). publicly demonstrates. pp.155. A dynamical theory of the [9] Vv.Aa. society. Wikipedia. Vol. McGraw-Hill Companies. London. (2014).).Aa. On light and other high frequency Britannica (11th ed. Revolution as based on a strong connection of Caxton. J. Cambridge University Press. New York. N. (2014). to the present. Press.1. academic research and education to industry and [15] Noble. R. Encyclopaedia Britannica. (1911). (1865). [2] Vv. Wikipedia.Aa. Electric arcs: Experiments upon arcs [25] Landes. & Kennelly. arXiv:0711. 2007.E. [3] Chevalier. Van Nostrand. D. (1893). (2012). & Maier. [18] Sparavigna. D. A. Physics in Carnacki's investigations. (1908). No. (1903).htm [23] Muntone. 11-15.4606 [physics.ijSciences. H.Aa.1.7-10. International York. (1902). Volume 3 – October 2014 (10) 7 View publication stats . [2007). Paul.J. (1870). 459-512. http://www. A. Vol. 15325/15325-h/ 15325-h. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Electromagnetic induction. pp. S. lecture before the Franklin Institute. Routledge. American Technical Society. February 18. Modern applications of [20] Vv. [4] Abbott. [12] Vv. Vol. Carbon-Arc Light as the Electric Light of 1870 researches. (1897).Aa. Second Industrial Revolution. (1913). [16] Zeidler. Cyclopedia of Architecture. T.