Before the invention of the light bulb, illuminating the world after the sun went down was a messy, arduous, hazardous task. It took a bunch of candles or torches to fully light up a good-sized room, and oil lamps, while fairly effective, tended to leave a residue of soot on anything in their general vicinity.


When the science of electricity really got going in the mid 1800s, inventors everywhere were clamoring to devise a practical, affordable electrical home lighting device. Englishman Sir Joseph Swan and American Thomas Edison both got it right around the same time (in 1878 and 1879, respectively), and within 25 years, millions of people around the world had installed electrical lighting in their homes. The easy-to-use technology was such an improvement over the old ways that the world never looked back.

The amazing thing about this historical turn of events is that the light bulb itself could hardly be simpler. The modern light bulb, which hasn't changed drastically since Edison's model, is made up of only a handful of parts. In this edition of HowStuffWorks , we'll see how these parts come together to produce bright light for hours on end.