Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Swan, Joseph Wilson
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

English physicist and chemist who produced the incandescent-filament electric lamp and invented bromide paper for use in developing photographs. He was knighted in 1904.

Other inventions Swan took out more than 70 patents. He made a miner's electric safety lamp which was the ancestor of the modern miner's lamp.

In the course of this invention he devised a new lead cell (battery) which would not spill acid. He also attempted to make an early type of fuel cell.

The filament lamp Swan was born in Sunderland and went to work in a chemical firm. Interested in electric lighting from about 1845, he began making filaments by cutting strips of paper and baking them at high temperatures to produce a carbon fibre. In making the first lamps, he connected the ends of a filament to wire (itself a difficult task), placed the filament in a glass bottle, and attempted to evacuate the air and seal the bottle with a cork. Usually the filament burned away very quickly in the remaining air, blackening the glass at the same time. Only after the invention of the vacuum pump in 1865 was Swan able to produce a fairly durable incandescent lamp. For this he made a new type of filament from cotton thread partly dissolved by sulphuric acid. He patented the process in 1880 and began manufacturing lamps. In 1882 US inventor Thomas Edison initiated litigation for patent infringement against Swan, but this was dismissed and the joint company Edison and Swan United Electric Light Company came into being in 1883.

Photography A wet process for producing photographic prints, using a gelatine film impregnated with carbon or other pigment granules and photosensitized using potassium dichromate, was patented by Swan in 1864. This was known as the carbon or autotype process.

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles

Full text Article Swan, Sir Joseph Wilson (1828 - 1914)
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

British physicist, who in 1860 invented a lightbulb, consisting of a carbon filament in an evacuated glass bulb. Its practical...

Full text Article Swan, Joseph Wilson (1828-1914)
The Hutchinson Dictionary of Scientific Biography

Place: Belgium Subject: biography, technology and manufacturing English inventor and electrical engineer - trained originally as a chemist - who pro

See more from Credo