a light bulb idea from

Joseph Swan

"There are no inventions without a pedigree, meaning that nothing is developed in complete isolation, an inventor always draws on the work of others that have gone before." JS

Joseph Wilson Swan was born at Pallion Hall in Sunderland to quarry manager John and his wife Isabella Swan on October 31st 1828.

At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to Hudson and Osbaldiston’s pharmacy in Sunderland. Unfortunately, both chemists died before Swan completed his training.
After that, he joined a Newcastle chemical firm run by his brother-in-law John Mawson, producing collodian – then used in the wet plate photographic process.”

Swan went on to become a partner in Mawson’s, which was renamed Mawson, Swan and Morgan, and in 1850 had a light bulb idea to make a bulb using carbonised paper.

Underhill..first house to be lit by electricity..see blue plaque below

Despite demonstrating a working device by 1860, however, the lack of “a good vacuum and an adequate electric source” caused him to abandon the invention for a time.

Instead, Swan devoted his talents to developing photographic processes – revolutionising the craft with a dry plate process using gelatine and silver bromide.

Swan first demonstrated the light bulb at a lecture in Newcastle upon Tyne on 18 December 1878, but he did not receive a patent until 27 November 1880 (patent No. 4933) after improvement to the original lamp.


His house in Low Fell, Gateshead was the first in the world to be lit by light bulb, and the world's first electric-light illumination in a public building was for a lecture Swan gave in 1880.

Swan was also an early pioneer in the development of a safety lamp for miners.
He exhibited his first lamp in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1881 and improved ones in subsequent years.

In 1894 Swan was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and in September 1901 he was awarded the honorary degree of D.Sc. from Durham University In 1904 he was knighted, becoming Sir Joseph Swan. He died in 1914 in Surrey.

Joseph Swan brought to you by

The Felling Heritage Group