Who is Credited With Inventing the Technology For the Modern Light Switch?

September 11, 2023
David Sunnyside

When it comes to inventions, the likes of railways, hydraulic cranes and the electric light bulb are well documented - but who is credited with inventing the technology for the modern light switch? The answer may surprise you.

It was a Newcastle man with strong links to Heaton. Inventor John Henry Holmes (pictured above) is credited with creating the first light switch in 1884, using what was known as ‘quick break technology’. This ensured that the internal contacts would move apart or together very quickly, to prevent the arcing which caused fires and shortened switch life. This technology is found in billions of switches across the globe to this day.

In the early days of lighting, the only way to dim a lamp was by a system that used a carbon filament between electrodes in a glass cylinder filled with nitrogen. However, these systems were extremely complex and impractical for residential use. Edison is widely credited with inventing the electric light bulb, but his team also worked hard to improve the design of the carbon filament and develop treatments for it to allow it to burn brightly without dark marks on the inside of the glass bulb.

Likewise, the switch itself needed improvement to make it practical for home use. Although the mechanical design and dimensions of the switch have changed over time, the appearance remains largely the same today. Switches are often still in place for decades or more, being replaced only when a part of a house is rewired. They can be made from a variety of materials including porcelain, bakelite and ebonite. Today, most switches are made from modern plastics such as polycarbonate or fire resistant ABS.

David Sunnyside
Co-founder of Urban Splatter • Digital Marketer • Engineer • Meditator
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