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The Jablochkoff Candle

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. 

Jablochkoff Electric Lights on Thames Embankment. SPT pamphlet 14/11

Paul Jablochkoff (1847-1894) was a Russian telegraph engineer who had risen to the post of director of telegraphs between Moscow and Kursk. In 1875 he resigned, planning to travel to America to see the international exhibition in Philadelphia. However he only got as far as France. In Paris he met Louis Bréguet (1804-1883) who had developed telegraphs and electric clocks for the French navy and railways. Bréguet gave Jablochkoff the use of his laboratory and in 1876 Jablochkoff developed his electric 'candle'. The Jablochkoff Candle was one of the first arc lamps to be used in large quantities.

The Jablochkoff Candle was cheap and simple compared to previous arc lamp designs, and it was far brighter than gas lamps. The carbons stood upright, parallel to each other - this meant that the candle did not require complex regulating mechanisms.

The main importance of the Jablochkoff Candle was that it brought electric light to public attention. The lamp was marketed by the Société Générale d' Électricité and was used to light streets, public buildings and docks. It was also shown at all the electrical and industrial exhibitions in the late 1870s and early 1880s.

Drawing of a Jablochkoff Candle showing internal workings and exterior globe. SPT pamphlet 14/11

The candle was influential in Britain too. In 1878 the Metropolitan Board of Works installed candles on the Victoria Embankment, while the City of London used them to light Billingsgate fish market, the Mansion House and Holborn Viaduct. In March 1880 there was an abortive attempt to demonstrate the candle to the Society of Telegraph Engineers. However the major problem with the candle was that the carbon arrangement had to be completely replaced every time the lamp was switched off, and it was soon superseded by lamps with reliable mechanisms for moving the carbons.

More information can be found in the Paul Jablochkoff biography.

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