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British Industrial History

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Edison and Swan United Electric Light Co

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Advertising sign.
March 1888. Lamps sold by F. H. Royce and Co
August 1899.
August 1899.
February 1901.
December 1908.

Edison and Swan United Electric Light Co, of 123 to 125 Queen Victoria Street, London, EC

The company seems to have been known under various versions of this name at different times.

1875 Joseph Swan experimented with incandescent lamps but lacked an adequate vacuum pump. He heard about a newly invented air pump known as a Sprengel pump and applied this to his experiments. Joseph Swan demonstrated the carbon filament light bulb in Newcastle and received a British patent in 1878 for the light bulb.

Thomas Edison turned his attentions to electric lighting towards the end of 1877. He believed that commercially successful lighting needed to have similar characteristics to the existing gas lighting. His early experiments using carbonized paper and carbon were failures. The lamp usually cited as his first success was made on 19th October 1879 but the carbonized cotton used as the conductor was still very fragile. He later found that a particular type of Japanese bamboo was the most satisfactory.

Edison was not the first to patent the modern design of the light bulb - Swan's patent predated his. Edison brought a case in the British courts for infringement of Swan's patent but lost. As part of the settlement, Edison was forced to take Swan in as a partner in his British electric works.

1883 In the United States, Edison didn't have the chance to put up a fight. The U.S. Patent Office had ruled on October 8, 1883 that Edison's patents were based on the prior art of a man named William Sawyer and were invalid. In addition, Swan had already sold his U.S. patent rights to the Brush Electric Company in June of 1882.

1883 The Swan catalogue from 1883 displays the number and types of lamps available. The catalogue lists more than 100 houses and other buildings and 25 ships all lit by Swan's lamps.

1883 Edison-Swan United Electric Lighting Co established by the amalgamation of the Edison Electric Light Co and the Swan United Electric Light Co[1], and incorporated on 26 October.[2]. Several lighting orders in parts of London were transferred to the new company from the constituent companies.

1886 Ediswan moved production to a former jute mill at Ponders End, north London.

1886-7 Took legal action against Woodhouse and Rawson for infringement of 2 patents; this was successful in the Court of Appeal as well as a lower court[3].

1888 Sued William Holland (of Albert Palace, Battersea) and his suppliers for infringement of the Edison 1879 patent for the incandescent lamp and the Chesbrough patent for making uniform carbon thread. The judgement dismissed the action in relation to Edison's patent of 1879 but made an injunction to prevent infringement of Chesebrough's patent.[4]

1889 Engines and dynamos for the electric light installation at the Adelphi Theatre. [5]

1889 Electrical lamp for optical lanterns. [6]

1891 Released a catalogue. [7]

1892 Edison continued using bamboo filaments until the merger that created the General Electric Co and that company then shifted to cellulose.

1892 The company was merged into the General Electric Co.

1893 Legal action between Edison-Swan United Electric Lighting Co and Woodhouse and Rawson[8].

1893-4 Patents expired. Market opened up to domestic and foreign competition.

1894 Professor J.A. Fleming was a consultant to Edison-Swan United Electric Lighting Co[9].

1896 Absorbed the Manchester Edison and Swan Co Ltd in November.

1897 The Improved Electric Glow-Lamp Co took action against Edison Swan United Electric Co for infringement of its patents[10].

1904 Professor Sir Ambrose Fleming's original diode valve was made in the Edison Swan (later Mazda) factory at Ponders End near London. Professor Fleming was Technical Consultant to the Edison Swan Company at the time. It was this close co-operation between University and Factory which resulted in the first radio valve in the world.

1905 One of the founder members of the British Carbon Lamp Association[11].

After c.1908 the company seems to have been increasingly known as Edison Swan Electric Co although the original name was used up until at least 1916.

1914 Manufacturers of drawn wire (tungsten) and carbon filament lamps, general electric light apparatus and fittings. [12]

1915 Edison and Swan United Electric Light Co factory at Ponders End, showrooms in Queen Victoria St EC and Victoria St SW[13].

WWI: Edison and Swan Electric Light works (Ponder's End, Middlesex) doubled production of bulbs and tubing; special glasses developed for 0.5W lamps, signalling lamps and wireless valves[14].

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The London Gazette 27 November 1883
  2. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
  3. The Engineer 1888/07/20
  4. The Engineer 1888/07/20
  5. The Engineer of 23rd Jan 1889 p73
  6. The Engineer 1889/03/29 p262
  7. The Engineer 1891/04/10
  8. The Times, 21 December 1893
  9. The Times, 6 April 1894
  10. The Times, 13 April 1897
  11. Competition Commission report: [1]
  12. 1914 Whitakers Red Book
  13. Post Office London Directory, 1915
  14. Glass-Making in England, by H. J. Powell