Former vice president Joe Biden made a false claim on Thursday while visiting Kenosha, Wisconsin following the week of unrest in the Midwest town that resulted from the death of Jacob Blake.
"Why in God's name don't we teach history in history classes?" Biden asked before making his claim. "A black man invented the light bulb, not a white guy named [Thomas] Edison."
Biden was seemingly referring to a man who worked for Edison as one of his researchers, Lewis Latimer.
Long before Thomas Edison patented -- first in 1879 and then a year later in 1880 -- and began commercializing his incandescent light bulb, British inventors were demonstrating that electric light was possible with the arc lamp. In 1835, the first constant electric light was demonstrated, and for the next 40 years, scientists around the world worked on the incandescent lamp, tinkering with the filament (the part of the bulb that produces light when heated by an electrical current) and the bulb’s atmosphere (whether air is vacuumed out of the bulb or it is filled with an inert gas to prevent the filament from oxidizing and burning out). These early bulbs had extremely short lifespans, were too expensive to produce or used too much energy.
When Edison and his researchers at Menlo Park came onto the lighting scene, they focused on improving the filament -- first testing carbon, then platinum, before finally returning to a carbon filament. By October 1879, Edison’s team had produced a light bulb with a carbonized filament of uncoated cotton thread that could last for 14.5 hours. They continued to experiment with the filament until settling on one made from bamboo that gave Edison’s lamps a lifetime of up to 1,200 hours -- this filament became the standard for the Edison bulb for the next 10 years. Edison also made other improvements to the light bulb, including creating a better vacuum pump to fully remove the air from the bulb and developing the Edison screw (what is now the standard socket fittings for light bulbs).
While Edison is widely credited as the inventor of the light bulb, that shouldn't take away from Latimer's contributions. Latimer reportedly worked on filaments that attempted to improved the lifetime of a bulb.
For video of Biden's comments, watch below: