While Thomas Edison’s 1879 lightbulb represented an epochal advance, it remained far from perfect: its carbonized cellulose filament gulped power. In 1905 managers at General Electric’s pioneering research laboratory in Schenectady, New York, decided to figure out a way to improve filament performance. They hired 32-year-old William Coolidge, a research assistant to Arthur Noyes at MIT’s Department of Chemistry.
No tale in all the chronicles of American invention would seem to be better known than the story of Thomas Edison’s incandescent electric light. The electric light, after all, quickly became the epitome of the bright idea, and its creator was for more than fifty years the living symbol of America’s inventive genius. But in truth it is only in recent years that we have begun to piece together the complete story of history’s most famous invention.