The ability to make a filament glow by passing a current through it was understood decades before Joseph Swan patented his incandescent light bulb in 1880. The challenge was creating a light source with a practical lifespan. Swan, a chemist and physicist from County Durham, first attempted to create a useable light bulb in 1850. His first efforts proved impractical and so he abandoned the field for 25 years until technology moved on.
In the 1870s Swan developed a bulb with a carbonized cotton thread filament. The low oxygen level in Swan’s bulb allowed his filament to glow brightly without igniting. Swan’s home in Gateshead became the first house to feature electric light. In 1881 he began commercial production, with the Savoy Theatre in London being a notable early adopter.