Probably the earliest form of artificial light was the fire, lit for warmth and cooking purposes. The torch must have been originally simply a burning stick taken out of the fire. It was perfected when it was found that it would burn longer and more brightly when dipped in fat or oil. The use of fat on the torch may have suggested the rush light, which consisted simply of a rush steam, or some tow, floating in a vessel of oil or liquid fat. The Indian chiragh is on just the same principle. A great improvement on the rush light was the candle; but a still greater improvement was the lamp, burning a mineral oil, such as kerosene. So far, the principle of all artificial lights was the same: they were all oil lights. But the discovery of coal-gas as an illuminate in the 19th Century led to a new form of artificial light, namely gas. For the greater part of the 19th Century gas was the chief kind of artificial light used in the houses and streets of towns. It gave a far better light than candles and lamps and was much more convenient.
But the queen of artificial lights is the electric light, which came into common use in the latter part of the 19th Century (the first electric lighting act for England was passed in 1882). There are two kinds of electric lamps—the arc lamp and the incandescent lamp. The arc lamp is generally used out of doors, in railway stations and large public halls ; the incandescent lamp in private houses. In the arc lamp, the electric current passing over the space between the ends of two rods of carbon, vaporizes the carbon with intense heat and light. In the incandescent lamp, a resistant thread of carbon, enclosed in a glass bulb from which all the air has been taken (a vacuum), is made white hot by the passage through it of an electric current.
Electric light has great advantages over every other kind. It gives a much more brilliant illumination. It is clean, and gives off no smell. It does not consume the oxygen in the air. It is cool, for it produces scarcely any heat. And it is so convenient; for there is no lighting of the lamp, as with oil and gas, but only a switch to turn on or off. No one who has had electric light in his house, ever wants to go back to gas, lamps or candles. Nowadays, the streets of every town and even of many a village are lit with electric light; and nearly all the houses in towns have electric lighting. So man has captured the lightning, and tamed it to his service.