From fire to the LED lamp - a look at the history of lighting.
From the first fire to the modern LED lamp – a look at the history of lighting.

Light has been a constant for humans since the beginning of our evolution and has influenced our daily routine for many millions of years. So much so that now under the term “Human Centric Lighting” new lighting concepts are designed that respond to this need. When you realize how long humans have been exposed to natural light during evolution and that artificial light has been around for just 150 years, the importance comes quite clear. In this article we take a close look at the history of lighting.


History of Lighting

50,000 B.C. | The beginnings of the use of fire in the Stone Age

Our evolution has its origins in Africa, from where primeval humanity spread throughout the northern hemisphere. The discovery and use of fire, as a source of light and heat, played a significant role in this. In fact, there are finds from fireplaces that are already over 1.5 million years old.

Humans couldn’t make fire at first, depending on lightning strikes, forest fires or volcanoes to create it. Solid fireplaces, where it was permanently kept in check, became the source of heat, light and a evening gathering place. The oldest testimonies of such a permanent fireplace were charcoal residues found in the caves of Zhoukoudian in China, where the Peking man maintained a campfire over 500,000 years ago.

The first beginnings in the history of lighting were the usage of fire by man.

The dependency on the sun as exclusive heat and light source is put into perspective. The fire formed the center of the societies. The campfire was the place where stories and cultural transfer to the next generation emerged for a long time. This meaning of the fire stayed until the beginning of the industrial revolution.


Nevertheless, the fire developed differently as an artificial light source in different cultures. The first “mobile lights” were probably simple torches that were pulled out of the fire on the not yet burning side to quickly spend light. Gradually, man learned how fire itself can be made and how the simple torches could become longer-lived sources of light. Wooden torches soaked in resin, the so-called pine chips, were the first lights that lasted for about half an hour. Until the Middle Ages, this was an important source of light in human homes and mines. But since the fuel and material were one, they were short-lived.

From 20,000 B.C. | From fire to gas and oil powered light

Oil and tallow lamps were probably discovered around 20,000 BC. New was the fire place and the fuel were now separated from each other, thus providing longer-lasting light sources. First evidence for the invention of the candle come from the years around 500 BC. With the control of the fire, an important resource was found, which contributed significantly to the evolution and development of civilizations. Revolutionary was the discovery of fossil fuels in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Coal, petroleum and gas were used for the production of energy and light. These new fuels generated an industrial boom and many local scientists competed for new inventions and discoveries in the physical, chemical and mechanical fields. They were all pioneers of industrialization. Around 1785 gas lamps were invented and brightened theatres, factories, silver mines, roads and some upper-class houses. However, burning always gave off an unpleasant smell and the open flame was dangerous.

From 1879 | The invention of the light bulb and the rise of LED

The path to the incandescent lamp was leveled by Werner von Siemens in 1866, when he invented the dynamo machines, which could now generate electricity. But only the invention of the light bulb finally brought affordable light into everyday life. After some attempts, it was Thomas Alva Edison in 1879 who filed the patent for his improved light bulb and opened up the next chapter in the history of lighting.

He understood that there had to be a uniform voltage for lighting and brought the inventions of some other scientists to technical maturity. The filament bulb with tungsten filament came on the market.

In the following decades, the electrical grid was expanded worldwide. After numerous improvements to the incandescent lamp, the halogen lamp came in the 1950s, and in the eighties finally the compact fluorescent lamp, also called “energy-saving lamp” emerged.

White LED lights could already be produced in 1993, but only with a very low amount of light output. Since the ban of the incandescent lamp in 2009, the LED variants were being used more and more in households. Because a disadvantage of the original light bulb was its inefficiency: under 5% of the electrical energy was converted into light, the rest was generated heat. It also consumed a relatively large amount of power compared to the LED technology. In 2008, the first LED filament lamp by Ushio Lighting was presented. Since then, LED bulbs have been rapidly developing into ever more efficient, durable, compact and flexible models.

From 2012 | The discovery of Human Centric Lighting

Science is gradually discovering how the light spectra of the different light sources affect the human organism. The switch to LED lighting and the development of intelligent lighting control systems are not only the key to extremely energy-efficient lighting solutions. In addition, they offer completely new applications that were previously unthinkable.


Lamps are being developed that are adapting to the functional, biological and emotional needs of humans than ever before. Producing light only as a source of light is more and more on the decline. “Human Centric Lighting” uses lamps to emit light the way the sun has “programmed” our biorythm for millions of years.

Was ist Human Centric Lighting?

This creates light, which activates important hormonal processes in the body and thus makes us perform better and enable us to relax, depending on the time of day or night, or the individual programming of the light. The development of OLEDs also makes it possible to design unimaginably individual and extremely thin lamps, so that they can be installed practically anywhere in the room. The potential of LED is far from exhausted. So it remains to be seen how the history of lighting continues to evolve.


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