LED Lighting and History Of The Diode How We Got These Modern Lights

The Man Who Started It All

These LED Lights: They Started Out As Something Completely Different

A Brief History Of LEDs


LED lights may seem pretty common by now to a lot of people but the technology behind them goes all the way back to Thomas Edison or maybe even earlier. To make things more clear, why don’t we start with what the term LED actually means? LED is the acronym for light emitting diode and that brings our attention to the term, diode.


The first discovery of what we call a diode occurred back in 1873 by a fellow named Frederick Guthrie. Basically, our man Frederick was playing with electricity. He was doing experiments with something called an electroscope. This was essentially a glass container or tube with wiring that could hold a charge. Something inspired him to bring white-hot metal close to the terminal of this electroscope. It turns out that white-hot metal emits electrons that neutralized a positive charge in the electroscope. This only worked with a positive charge but not a negative charge, which implies a one-way current the electron flow. Technically, the first diode was discovered. Meanwhile, across the pond from Frederick’s British homeland, in America, our native scientist Thomas Edison independently noticed the same effect three years later well trying to struggle shoot lightbulbs that were burning out. His solution involved adding a piece of metal and creating something we call the Edison effect.

Diode Development Sleeps For A Quarter Century


It wasn’t until 24 years later that a practical use of this so-called diode came into play in the development of the wireless telegraph. Diodes continued to play a very important role in Radio transmissions. Diodes were used in the manufacture of millions of early Crystal radios. Semiconductors came to replace vacuum tube diodes but certain types of diodes were found to produce light as current passed through them.

Certain types of diodes were found to produce light as current passed through them

One Common Theme In All The Iterations Of LED Lighting Was What Happens So Often In Science- The Accidental Discovery.

Diodes That Emit Light (LED)


Almost 100 years later, in 1961, two scientists working for Texas Instruments, Robert Baird and Gary Pittman, were trying to develop a laser with diodes. They discovered or invented an infrared LED. One year later Nick Holonyak Jr. invented an LED that could produce visible red light. He was employed with General Electric. It’s hard to say how much money he made for his invention but he was given the title of ”Father Of The Light Emitting Diode.” Throughout the 1970s more LED’s were developed. Each version able to produce more light and more colors. One common theme in all the iterations of LED lighting was what happens so often in science- the accidental discovery. Experimentation in the pursuit of something else leads to hey discovery which may benefit more than the original intended pursuit.


Brighter and Super-Bright LEDs


The first LEDs were dim and mostly either red or green tiny bulbs that emitted only a few lumens. They were OK for on and off indicators and crude digital displays for timers, calculators etc. For illumination purposes they could barely light up a cardboard box much less a whole room or outdoor area. In the 1990s, things changed. Ultra bright Blue LEDs or developed using gallium nitride and then phosphors to create a bright white light. It was just a matter of time before mass manufacturing and improvements in engineering brought down prices of bright LEDs to the point where buying them for almost any lighting application becomes the only practical and economical choice. Indoors or out and in practically any weather condition, LED lights are the rational choice weather for a few household lights or an entire industrial complex.

LEDs Have Now Found Their Way Into Virtually Every Modern Lifestyle.

The first LEDs were quite dim and suitable for only a few applications, plus they cost so much early on that the $200 price tag kept them out of the retail sector completely.

Incandescent and Flourescent Lighting Replaced!

LEDs have now found their way into virtually every modern lifestyle. They are found as replacements for incandescent, neon and fluorescent lights. They are used in large RGB screen displays.

You see them in traffic signals, calculators, watches and flashlights. They even provide the invisible light for TV remotes and other wireless applications.

With their high-efficiency and low operating costs along with five and six figure hours of service life, LEDs are positioned to replace virtually all other kinds of lighting.

LED Lighting In Review

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    Full Spectrum 
    LED lights work when direct current passed through them. Modern day LED lights can emit the full spectrum of color from infrared to ultraviolet. 
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    Limited Use At First Early types of bright LED lights in the mid 1970s were used with fiber optics telecommunications applications. LED lights were generally too expensive for commercial applications not to mention home use until around 1994. Some of the earliest LED lights cost about $200 each. They were only used for professional lab equipment. 
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    Fairchild To The Rescue 
    By the 1970s, however, Fairchild Semiconductors was producing an LED for five cents apiece.

LED Lighting At Massive Savings

LED lights end up providing savings in several ways. As stated before, LED lights operate on a fraction of the voltage and power of traditional lighting. An LED light operating at six words is capable of providing light output equivalent to a 40 Watt standard incandescent bulb.

LED lights are far less vulnerable to damage and easily last 50,000 hours and more. This means a great reduction in replacement costs associated with re-lamping. Some LED lights last up to 100,000 hours. That’s 11 years of continuous lighting. In commercial and industrial settings, the brighter light provided by LEDs reduce accidents and increase work efficiency.

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