Updated 10-I-2018

Dr. Irving Langmuir

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.

The gas-filled incandescent lamp, as we know it today, was the result of extensive research into the subjects of heat and mass loss from heated bodies. Working in the General Electric Research Laboratory at Schenectady NY, Irving Langmuir made a most significant advance in the design and performance of lamps. His invention resulted in untold savings in power bills and resulted in a lamp that maintained a high output during its life. Langmuir obtained US Patent 1,180,159 on Apr 18 1916 for a lamp that utilized a coiled tungsten filament and a gas (nitrogen) filling.

Irving Langmuir received a degree in Metallurgical Engineering from Columbia University in 1903. Working under Walther Nernst, he received his Ph.D from the University of Göttingen in 1906.

In 1932 Langmuir receivd the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work dealing with chemical surface reactions. This work led to greater understanding of the workings of filaments in lamps. The brilliant mind of Langmuir was often so engrossed in deep scientific thought that made him prone to spectacular bouts of absent-mindedness. His colleagues soon learned not to be offended when they would pass in a corridor and wish him good day, but not receive the slightest recognition from their esteemed leader. His wife once recalled how she would cook him breakfast in the mornings, and already deep in thought her husband would depart on his way to work and leave a small tip on the table. Another colleague famously collapsed and fell down the stairs at work - as while others rushed to offer assistance Langmuir simply took a long stride to step over the obstacle and continue on his way.

  1. "Biography of Irving Langmuir", in The Electric Incandescent Lamp 1880-1925, E.J. Covington, printed by GE Lighting NELA Press, Cleveland OH, 1998, p.137.