The Evolution of Colored Light Bulbs

April 20, 2016

Could you imagine a world without Christmas lights?

In fact, interior lighting would look much different if it hadn't been for Thomas Edison's follow-up idea to the light bulb - the strand of colored lights. From those original lights to black lights in dorm rooms, and to today's modern smart bulbs that give users access to millions of color options, colored light bulbs have a long and storied history. While we may take them for granted today, their history is intertwined with the technological revolution itself.


Modern colored lighting owes a lot to Christmas lights.

Christmas Lights: The 1880s

Yes, it was Edison who also brilliantly brought this form of illumination to the world. If you can imagine it, Christmas trees were originally lit with candles; unsurprisingly, this led to enough disasters that another solution had to be found. Edison's partner, Edward H. Johnson, wired the first strand of lights as we know it today - with bulbs colored red, white, and blue. By 1903, General Electric had started offering these lights in kits to be sold to homeowners, but due to the cost related to electric lighting, it wasn't until the mid-20th century that they became a common household item.


Black Lights: The 1930s

Black lights surged to popularity in the 1960s and beyond, but they were first invented in 1935 by William H. Byler. A modification of the fluorescent light, black lights make their unique light because of specially dyed glass tubes, and the lack of phosphor coating - which is what makes fluorescent light appear white. While they went on to be popular in night clubs, and used to illuminate special posters, Byler's lights also influenced a number of medical and radar technological developments.


The Lava Lamp: The 1960s

Lava lamps were one of the first ways that people brought colored lighting into their everyday lives. Invented by Edward Craven Walker, the lamps are now associated with hippie culture, but Walker's original intention was more as a way to calm the mind when in an office place. The lava lamp influenced the development of colored lighting because it wasn't meant as a primary light source, but rather as a tool to create a certain mood. Using a simple setup in which a bulb "heats" a wax liquid that dances in a water base, variations on the original design have led to the use of different colored waxes, liquids, and light bulbs to create mesmerizing effects.



Colored mood lighting started with the lava lamp.


Modern LEDs: The 1960s & 1990s

LEDs revolutionized the lighting industry because they operate with far less power and for far longer periods of time than other bulbs. A light-emitting diode efficiently converts electricity to light, and is over 70 times more efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs. Nick Holonyak, Jr. created the first LED in 1962 at General Electric, which was red colored, and then went on to invent yellow and green ones. While helpful for a number of applications, LEDs didn't become used as they are today until the 1990s, when the invention of a blue diode meant that a white light could be created, thereby allowing for use in household lighting fixtures.

Colored light bulbs have evolved to allow users to access millions of colors with the press of a button. Shop the SmartFX store today if you're ready to join the revolution.




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