The Bamboo Rod and the Light Bulb: #ThisWeekInWyomingHistory
We all know the story of Thomas Edison, the famous inventor of the incandescent light bulb that shaped the future of humanity.
Official historians say that Edison created his famous invention in Menlo Park, New Jersey, where he and a team of researchers tested thousands of bulbs between 1878 and 1880.
But there’s a little-known side story to this monumentally historic moment.
An alleged first-hand account of an expedition to Wyoming claims that Edison created his first incandescent lightbulb on the shores of Battle Lake, approximately 40 miles south of Rawlins.
Weeks before the expedition, Edison was hard at work in his laboratory in Menlo Park, as groups of prominent scientists and astronomers were gearing up to view the total eclipse of 1878.
Just like the recent 2017 solar eclipse, some of the best spots to view the natural phenomenon were right here in Wyoming.
Edison, along with a few of his fellow researchers, decided to make their way to the Cowboy State to get the best views.
Arriving by train in Rawlins on July 18, 1878, Edison and the group prepared for the solar eclipse for 10 days.
Once it was over, the group parted ways with Edison and an associate, Professor George Baker, electing instead to travel on to the West Coast while the rest of the cohort returned to the East.
After two weeks, Edison and Baker returned to Rawlins for a week of hunting and fishing near Muddy Creek, 70 miles from Rawlins.
Once Edison and Baker entered the dense woods of southern Wyoming, the official historical record becomes slightly muddled.
Some reports say that a Major T.T. Thornburgh accompanied Edison and Baker into the forest, but was later called away to join the White River expedition against the Ute
Tribe in Colorado, according to the Wyoming State Historical Society.
Historians agree that Thornburgh did die in the White River campaign, but the campaign itself actually started several months after Edison’s expedition.
A supposed eye witness told a fantastical story in which he described a conversation between Edison and Barker, where Barker had asked how the other had slept the previous night.
According to the witness, Edison replied, “I wasn’t thinking about resting. I lay and looked up at the beautiful stars and clear sky light and I invented an incandescent electric light.”
Historians refute the witness’s account, saying it was provided 40 years after Edison’s expedition.
It’s further believed that the witness’s account is the source of a story claiming Edison created the first lightbulb not in New Jersey, but on the shores of Battle Lake.
Over time, the story has changed slightly to claim that Edison got his idea for the incandescent lightbulb after he dropped his bamboo fishing pole into the campfire, causing the ends to glow.
But, as with everything that sounds wonderful and too good to be true, historians say the story is nothing more than a myth.
In 1878, arc lightning, which is credited as the inspiration for Edison’s incandescent bulb, wouldn’t be demonstrated in Paris, France, for another year.
Also, while Edison would eventually discover that bamboo was a useful material for his bulb’s filament, his first successful filament was carbonized cotton thread, historians say.
But one thing that remains true, historically speaking, is that Edison emerged from the mountains and departed Rawlins on August 19, 1878, providing accounts of an excellent fishing and hunting excursion.