Welcome

The history of arc lamps

An online exhibition looking at the history, development and the engineers involved in the creation and manufacture of arc lamps. Find out how an arc lamp works and how electric lighting became a practical reality.

An online exhibition looking at the history, development and the engineers involved in the creation and manufacture of arc lamps. Firstly you can find out what an arc lamp is and how they became used in a commercial capacity. Engineers who made electric lighting a practical reality can be Detail from an arc lamp advertisement from SPT pamphlet 14/28 discovered alongside the different types of lamps used for different purposes. Please click on the links below for the online exhibition:   

  • Arc Lamps introduction: When two pieces of carbon are connected to a high voltage electricity supply, an arc of brilliant light is "struck" between them when they are a short distance apart.
  • Arc Lamps up to 1870s: With the development of chemical batteries in the 1830s and 1840s, arc lighting entered a period of practical experiment. Detail from a Pilsen Lamp from SPT pamphlet 14/21
  • Arc Lamps from 1880s & 1890s: Engineers were constantly trying to find ways of improving the arc lamp's mechanism.
  • Enclosed and Flame Arc Lamps: Enclosed and flame arc lamps were the final major developments in arc lamp design.
  •  The Jablochkoff Candle: In 1876 Jablochkoff developed his electric 'candle', one of the first arc lamps to be used in large quantities.
  • Colonel R.E.B. Crompton and his work on arc lamps: He was dissatisfied with the French lamps he was importing, so he designed a Detail from a portrat of Colonel R.E.B. Crompton as a young man lamp of his own.
  • William Edwards Staite: William Staite made a major contribution to the development of the arc lamp in Britain.