The Incandescent System

This method is entirely different from the arc system. It has been stated that certain metals conduct electricity with greater facility than others, and some have higher resistance than others. If a certain amount of electricity is forced through some metals, they will become heated. This is true, also, if metals, which, ordinarily, will conduct a current freely, are made up into such small conductors that it is difficult for the current to pass.

Fig. 118. Interrupted Conductor.

In the arc method high voltage is essential; in the incandescent plan, current is the important consideration. In the arc, the light is produced by virtue of the break in the line of the conductor; in the incandescent, the system is closed at all times.

Supposing we have a wire A, a quarter of an inch in diameter, carrying a current of, say, 500 amperes, and at any point in the circuit the wire is made very small, as shown at B, in Fig. 118, it is obvious that the small wire would not be large enough to carry the current.

The result would be that the small connection B would heat up, and, finally, be fused. While the large part of the wire would carry 500 amperes, the small wire could not possibly carry more than, say, 10 amperes. Now these little wires are the filaments in an electric bulb, and originally the attempt was made to have them so connected up that they could be illuminated by a single wire, as with the arc system above explained, one following the other as shown in Fig. 117.

Fig. 119. Incandescent Circuit.

It was discovered, however, that the addition of each successive lamp, so wired, would not give light in proportion to the addition, but at only about one-fourth the illumination, and such a course would, therefore, make electric lighting enormously expensive.

This knowledge resulted in an entirely new system of wiring up the lamps in a circuit. This is explained in Fig. 119. In this figure A represents the dynamo, B, B the brushes, C, D the two line wires, E the lamps, and F the short-circuiting wires between the two main conductors C, D.

It will be observed that the wires C, D are larger than the cross wires F. The object is to show that the main wires might carry a very heavy amperage, while the small cross wires F require only a few amperes.

This is called the multiple circuit, and it is obvious that the entire amperage produced by the dynamo will not be required to pass through each lamp, but, on the other hand, each lamp takes only enough necessary to render the filament incandescent.

This invention at once solved the problem of the incandescent system and was called the subdivision of the electric light. By this means the cost was materially reduced, and the wiring up and installation of lights materially simplified.

But the divisibility of the light did not, by any means, solve the great problem that has occupied the attention of electricians and experimenters ever since. The great question was and is to preserve the little filament which is heated to incandescence, and from which we get the light.

The effort of the current to pass through the small filament meets with such a great resistance that the substance is heated up. If it is made of metal there is a point at which it will fuse, and thus the lamp is destroyed.

It was found that carbon, properly treated, would heat to a brilliant white heat without fusing, or melting, so that this material was employed. But now followed another difficulty. As this intense heat consumed the particles of carbon, owing to the presence of oxygen, means were sought to exclude the air.

This was finally accomplished by making a bulb of glass, from which the air was exhausted, and as such a globe had no air to support combustion, the filaments were finally made so that they would last a long time before being finally disintegrated.

The quest now is, and has been, to find some material of a purely metallic character, which will have a very high fusing point, and which will, therefore, dispense with the cost of the exhausted bulb. Some metals, as for instance, osmium, tantalum, thorium, and others, have been used, and others, also, with great success, so that the march of improvements is now going forward with rapid strides.