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Joined: Sep 2003
Posts: 47
GeneSF Offline OP
This is from the June 5th 1897 edition of "The Electrical World" by John W. Howell who worked for Edison on the incandescent lamp.

This article was his take on the "new" 220V lamps that were quickly being adopted in the UK. It's a fascinating piece that explains why 110 was chosen by Edison and why Europe decided on 220. There have been a lot of writings as how that happened, but here it is from an engineer that was there. I was surprised that there was a third standard, 55V.

I hope you find it informative. Gene;pg=PA705#v=onepage&q&f=false

Last edited by GeneSF; 07/25/19 01:27 AM.
Joined: Oct 2000
Posts: 5,389
So we're using a lower voltage than most of the world due to the manufacturing ease of a light bulb that will most likely soon be obsolete.....~S~

Joined: Sep 2003
Posts: 47
GeneSF Offline OP
The cost of early adoption. 110 was the optimal voltage for Edison's carbon filament lamps in 1880 and that's what the infrastructure was built around.

We do have split-phase 240 for the appliances that need it. Good one page read here:

Joined: Sep 2002
Posts: 917
Likes: 1
Edison's 110V was already a legacy system by the time Europe & others decided to electrify, Tesla & Westinghouse had to make it compatible with Edison's 110V DC when introducing AC, the lamps were not going to care if AC or DC.

Joined: Dec 2005
Posts: 866
Likes: 4
Interesting reading. The 55 - 110 Volts system was used for the earlier arc lamps.
110 Volt lamps have thicker filaments and will take a bit more abuse, but more copper needed for circuit wiring.
220 Volt lamps have thinner filaments, more light output but usually fail earlier.
110-240 Volt LED lamps will use less power, but electronic driver boards are prone to early failure.

The product of rotation, excitation and flux produces electricty.
Joined: Sep 2003
Posts: 47
GeneSF Offline OP
Makes sense. Edison worked on improving the carbon arc lamps and a ready 110 VDC supply was there.

Arcs were not the best idea for light and were phased out:

Edison was not the inventor of the light bulb, but as an electrical contractor supplied the DC power, meters, wiring and fixtures, as well as an improved incandescent lamp.

I'm fully switched over to LED lamps. I've seen a few fail, but not at the level of incandescents. I can't remember the last time I flipped on the bathroom switch only to have the light bulb go out on me.

Joined: Dec 2001
Posts: 2,495
Thanks for the link! It's the first time I've seen replacement intervals for the electrodes, something I've wondered about for a long time! 600 hours doesn't sound too horrible for street lighting, I'd roughly guess an average replacement interval of three times a year. With regular carbons (175 hrs.) it'd be closer to monthly.

In all fairness, in my personal experience those pre-WWI arc lamps are nothing to yearn for though. They emit a horribly bluish, flickering light and make loud buzzing noises. I'd say the colour temperature is close to a neutral white mercury vapour lamp. They seem to have been phased out quite early. I've seen pictures of Vienna railway stations built in 1898 and all the original arc lamps had been replaced by incandescent fittings by the mid-1920. They didn't only remove the guts of the arc lamps and put incandescent bulbs into the original fittings, they removed everything and replaced the fittings with new ones, plain metal shades and pickle-jar style glass covers over the lamps.

This painting shows the original arc lamps:
Another picture:

The 1920s replacements:

After WWII, the stations were soon converted to fluorescent lighting. Today they have a combination of replica arc fittings with discharge lamps and fluorescent battens, currently under conversion to LED.

Joined: Sep 2003
Posts: 47
GeneSF Offline OP
Interesting. Carbon arc-lamps were used in movie theaters. I was lucky to visit the projection booth in my hometown theater and got to see the carbon arc in action behind the heavily tinted door. I'm told they changed rods between movies, so they did not last long. I think Xenon bulbs replaced them sometime in the 1960s. I think the voltage had to be DC, but I forgot how many volts.

But yes, it was "make do" technology until something better came along.

Joined: May 2005
Posts: 984
Likes: 1
I was told by a retiring projectionist that many in the industry resisted the change from carbon arc to incandescent because they knew exactly how long the rods would last but that the light bulbs would fail without warning...sometimes in the middle of a film (causing the patrons to boo loudly during the unexpected 'intermission' that resulted from having to change the burned out light bulb).

Joined: Jun 2014
Posts: 129
dsk Offline
Edison did ofcourse protect his interests. I have read somewhere that he mad the electric chair for AC to scare people from choosing AC and keep up with DC.

I guess if someone should decide a new standard today with no hence of history, and whats available we had higer voltage DC in our houses, almost no loss, and easy to convert to suitable voltage and frequency with modern technology. Higher voltage, thinner wires, less copper.

To expensive to do all that, but maybe with combined 120/240V in north American houses the 240 could win. Most 230V equipment made for other countries (mainly with 50 Hz) will run Ok on 240 (60Hz)


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