Updated 26-XII-2018

George E. Inman

This article was written by fellow lamp engineer and collector Edward J. Covington, and originally appeared on his own website of biographical sketches of persons involved in the lamp industry. Following his passing in February 2017, and with kind permission of his family, Ed's words have been preserved here in the hope of maintaining access to his writings for the benefit of subsequent generations.

George Inman testing an early fluorescent lamp

If it were possible for society to compile a list of the most important inventions and/or developments in human history it would have to be assumed that the fluorescent lamp would hold rank somewhere near the top. There were a great number of workers who would have to be mentioned in a complete story of the lamp but in this writing the beginning is assumed to take place with work that was undertaken in the GE Lighting laboratories at Nela Park in East Cleveland, Ohio. In this case the basic patent was granted to George E. Inman who was the leader of a small group that was designated to develop a practical lamp.

The story of the early work and development phases of the fluorescent lamp has been told many times and the reader is referred to those writings for a proper understanding of the business aspects and rivalries that existed during those early years. One can read the comprehensive study made by Arthur A. Bright, Jr., a version written by George Inman, one written by Richard Thayer, the account according to Keating, or a brief treatment by Inman and Amick, which was written in 1946. That broad subject will not be broached here. Instead the writer takes the observance of the 70th anniversary of the filing of a basic General Electric patent, which was issued to George Inman in 1941, to give a biographical sketch of Mr. Inman.

On October 14th 1941 U.S. Patent 2,259,040 was issued to George E. Inman. The filing date on the patent is April 22nd 1936. It has generally been regarded as the foundation patent. However, some companies were working on the fluorescent lamp at the same time as GE and some individuals had already filed for patents. GE strengthened its position when it purchased a German patent that preceded Inman's. GE paid 0,000 for U.S. Patent2,182,732 which was issued to Friedrich Meyer, Hans J. Spanner and Edmund Germer. Akin to the endless disagreement about whether Swan or Edison invented the incandescent lamp, it is difficult to recognize one individual as "the" inventor of the fluorescent lamp. However, there is no doubt that it was GE that brought the practical fluorescent lamp to the world.

The story of George Elmer Inman (June 6 1895 - July 17 1972) begins in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where he was born. He spent a short time in Patterson, New Jersey, but grew up in Warren, Ohio where his father worked for the city in the Water Department.

Inman received a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry from Colgate University in 1918 after which he served as an assistant in chemistry. Later, in 1923, he did graduate work in colloidal and physical chemistry at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

In World War I Inman served in the military working with gas masks. That was a task that did not set well with him as he was a peace-loving man. As it turned out, the work did not last long as it ended with the conflict.

Inman entered the Lamp Development Laboratory as a development engineer in 1919 and served in that capacity until 1952. He was a liason engineer from 1952-1956 and was Manager of Discharge Lamp Advance Engineering from 1956-1960, when he retired. He lectured at Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland from 1939-1955. In late 1934 he was chosen to lead the development of a practical fluorescent lamp.

In 1930 George Inman received a Charles A. Coffin Award. The award was given for contributions to "lamp mechanics". Quoting from the May, 1931 issue of The Magazine of Light,

"George E. Inman, although a chemist by training, has made signal offerings to the improvement of the MAZDA lamp in the fields of physics and mechanics. Especially noteworthy is a contribution of a physical nature which has resulted in distinct improvements in our product. Mr. Inman has done much to improve the chemical getters applied to incandescent lamps, and his work in connection with the physical characteristics of glass as related in lamp fabrication has also been of great value."
During World War II Inman served as an air raid warden and his home served as a meeting place for those involved with that duty. In his work at GE at that time he helped in the development of xenon flash lamps.

In 1964 Inman was awarded the IES Gold Medal. In an announcement of the award it was stated in Lighting News:

"In his first years at GE, he made valuable contributions working on problems relating to filament lamp design and manufacture. Some of his developments were: a method for uniformly coating filaments with getter - a chemical agent used to obtain better vacuum and reduce bulb blackening; a steel mandrel dissolving process for coiled filaments; and a meter glow testing device for indicating impurities in incandescent lamps. For the latter device, Mr. Inman in 1930 received GE's Coffin Award for unusual meritorious contribution."
The Inman patent of 1941, the first page of which is shown below, does not have some of the characteristics of lamps of today. For example, the end discs of a LUMILINE lamp were used and direct heating of the electrodes from the outside was not possible. Starting was achieved by use of a starting stripe and a high voltage impressed from end to end. The Meyer-Spanner-Germer patent did employ a heatable electrode, which could be used to "activate" the emission material.

In 1938 George Inman presented the first Illuminating Engineering Society paper on fluorescent lamps. His last patent (U.S. 3,047,763) was for the "Panel F" lamp. It was tremendously popular within the engineering community but it did not achieve great usuage in application, for reasons other than technical. Inman retired from General Electric on May 31st 1960.

George Inman married Gladys Miller and they had two daughters, Ann and Carol, and a son, Charles. George was a trustee of the East Cleveland YMCA, the East Cleveland Library and the Windemere Methodist Church.

Fluorescent lamp pioneers, from L to R: A. Eugene Lemmers, John O. Aicher, Richard N. Thayer, George E. Inman (Picture courtesy of Richard E. Lemmers)

  1. US 1,655,466 - Method and Apparatus for Treating Filaments - 1928/01/10
  2. US 1,694,265 - Method and Apparatus for Treating Filaments - 1928/12/04
  3. US 1,834,781 - Method for Treating Filaments - 1931/12/01 - with William P. Zabel
  4. US 2,017,719 - Electric Lamp - 1935/10/15
  5. US 2,042,153 - Mounting and Thermoinsulative Jacket for Vapor Electric Devices - 1936/05/26
  6. US 2,085,530 - Electric Arc Lamp - 1937/06/29
  7. US 2,085,531 - Electric Arc Lamp - 1937/06/29 - with Eugene Lemmers
  8. US 2,103,033 - Electron Emissive Electrode - 1937/12/21
  9. US 2,103,034 - Gaseous and Vapor Electric Discharge Device - 1937/12/21
  10. US 2,104,652 - Electric Discharge Device - 1938/01/04
  11. US 2,109,998 - Electric Discharge Device and Method of Starting - 1938/03/01
  12. US 2,114,842 - Circuit for Electric Discharge Devices - 1938/04/19
  13. US 2,116,681 - Electric Lamp - 1938/05/10
  14. US 2,135,714 - Electric Lamp - 1938/11/09
  15. US 2,135,715 - Electric Lamp - 1938/11/08
  16. US 2,146,579 - Electric Discharge Lamp - 1939/02/07
  17. US 2,163,428 - Enclosed Arc Lamp - 1939/06/20
  18. US 2,259,040 - Electric Discharge Lamp - 1941/10/14
  19. US 2,272,523 - Electric Lamp - 1942/02/10
  20. US 2,317,061 - Electric Lamp - 1943/04/20
  21. US 2,329,118 - Electrode for Electrical Discharge Devices - 1943/09/07
  22. US 2,341,990 - Electric Discharge Device - 1944/02/15 - with Eugene Lemmers
  23. US 2,378,222 - Electric Discharge Apparatus - 1945/06/12
  24. US 2,479,164 - Electric Glow Discharge Lamp - 1949/08/16
  25. US 2,805,308 - Photoelectric Crystal Mounting - 1957/09/03
  26. US 3,047,763 - Panel-Shaped Fluorescent Lamp - 1962/07/31

  1. "A Brief History of the Fluorescent Lamp", George E. Inman and C. L. Amick, The Magazine of Light, No.3, 1946, pp.16-18.
  2. "The Story of the Development of the Fluorescent Lamp", George E. Inman, August 9th 1954 (written in 1948).
  3. "The Electric-Lamp Industry - Technological Change and Economic Development from 1800 to 1947", Arthur A. Bright, Jr., The MacMillan Company, New York, 1949.
  4. "Fluorescent Lamps - Past, Present, and Future", G. E. Inman, General Electric Review, Vol.57, Jul 1954, pp.34-38.
  5. Lamps for a Brighter America, Paul W. Keating, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, 1954.
  6. Death Notice, The Plain Dealer, Jul 19 1972, p.8D.
  7. "Obituary, Rites for G. E. Inman, Lamp Engineer, Set", The Plain Dealer, Jul 19 1972, p.5E.
  8. "The Fluorescent Lamp: Early U. S. Development", Richard N. Thayer, ca 1989. This write-up can be viewed on this website.