Three names (one English, one American and one Italian) claim the glory for a groundbreaking invention which brought light into our homes and ink to our skins.

The invention of the very first electric light bulb (called the ““incandescent light bulb”) was the British scientist Sir Joseph Wilson Swan who patented it back in 1878. His discovery had two drawbacks, however: it consumed a lot of energy and the interior of the bulb (or the part where the light was created) tended to blacken quickly because of the soot produced.

Danny Elliott, Rebel Muse Tattoo, Dallas, USA
Danny Elliott, Rebel Muse Tattoo, Dallas, USA

One year later in 1879, the design was improved by the American Thomas Alva Edison who tested another kind of light bulb, one with a fine filament with a high electrical resistance. His improvements made an immediate impression: his version did not blacken and gave off a brighter light.

David Andrew Swambo, Stronghold Tattoo, Cardiff, UK
David Andrew Swambo, Stronghold Tattoo, Cardiff, UK

Sir Swan was undeterred however, and keeping in mind the improvements made by his rival Edison, adapted his own model of light bulb and began to sell the improved versions in England!

Jessie Foakes, Private Studio, London, UK
Jessie Foakes, Private Studio, London, UK

Obviously this could not be allowed to go on forever: the two inventors began a legal battle to determine who could claim paternity of the invention and a truce was called when they co-founded a company, the famous Edison-Swan, which met with immediate success on the market in many parts of the world.

Laura Lenihan, Six Bullets Tattoo, London, UK
Laura Lenihan, Six Bullets Tattoo, London, UK

Subsequently, in 1910, the American physicist William David Coolidge had the brilliant idea of replacing the original carbon filament with one made out of tungsten immersed in a gas, giving a light bulb that lasted even longer. Not the final version, but certainly the one that most closely resembles the electric light bulbs we use to this day.

In the midst of all this activity, there was a turn up for the books. The inventor from Turin, Italy, or more precisely, from Piossasco, outside Turin, Alessandro Cruto (1847-1908) was actually the first to complete/improve the incandescent light bulb, in this way coming up with a far more innovative product.

Valentina Riabova, Art Faktors Tattoo, Essen, Germany
Valentina Riabova, Art Faktors Tattoo, Essen, Germany

The light bulb invented by Cruto, had a carbon filament in an ethylene gas and lasted five hundred hours as opposed to the forty of Edison’s original version. Not too shabby, eh? The problem of the Italian inventor was that he lacked financial backers, and unable to patent his groundbreaking light bulb, he was forgotten by History

Rachael Ainsworth, La Graine Tattoo, Berlin, Germany
Rachael Ainsworth, La Graine Tattoo, Berlin, Germany

Son of a master builder, Alessandro Cruto managed, despite countless difficulties, to take part at the Munich Electrical Exhibition in Baveria, Germany. He had enormous success with the public thanks to his light bulb which produced a decidedly whiter light than Edison’s.

Pierre Oked, Oked Tattoo, Paris, France,
Pierre Oked, Oked Tattoo, Paris, France,

On his triumphant return from Germany, the Italian inventor closed down his old, inadequate laboratory in Piossasco and opened a new factory in Alpignano. A factory, set up in 1885, which only one year later, began selling light bulbs all over Europe. Before Cruto passed it on in 1889, abdicating from his position as director to devote himself to other research and inventions.

Laura Lenihan, Six Bullets Tattoo, London, UK
Laura Lenihan, Six Bullets Tattoo, London, UK

In its heyday, the factory in Alpignano was producing about one thousand light bulbs per day, made by just twenty-six Italian workers who were enthusiastic about the project. In 1922, the future Edison-Clerici, which had meanwhile bought the Piedmontese company, decided to move production to Milan. Finally, in 1927, it was sold off to the Dutch company Philips with the workforce at this stage all of three hundred workers.

Gabriel Frank, Black Rainbow Tattoo, Ravensburg, Germany
Gabriel Frank, Black Rainbow Tattoo, Ravensburg, Germany

At that stage, the Century of Light was well under way, and before long, the famous Swan-Edison-Cruto light bulbs would become tattoos. Like the marvellous ones you can see together with this articleo…