MadSci Network: Science History

Re: Who invented the electric light dimmer switch?

Date: Wed Jun 20 22:32:28 2001
Posted By: Eric Maass, Director, semiconductors / communication products
Area of science: Science History
ID: 984956298.Sh

Hello Brittany.   It is very hard to track down patents from so long ago, and 
so it is difficult to be sure who invented the electric light dimmer switch.

I expected to find that Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, would 
have invented the first dimmer switch. However, I searched through his 
patents (and he had many!), and did not find a dimmer patent in his huge 
portfolio of patents.

As far as I can tell, the earliest safe dimmer switch - used in the theater - 
was invented by Granville Woods in the 1890's.

Often referred to as "the Black Edison", Granville Woods lived at 
about the same time as Thomas Edison, and was similarly 
self-educated, and generated over 150 patents.  Thomas Edison and 
Granville Woods went to court twice to determine who invented something 
first...Granville Woods won both times.  Thomas Edison offered Granville 
Woods a  high level job at his company, but Granville Woods declined, 
apparently enjoying  the independence of owning his own 

Granville Woods loved the arts, and the theater.  The early attempts to dim 
theater lights often led to dangerous electrical fires - seeing a challenge 
where he could contribute, Granville Woods invented the first safe and 
inexpensive dimmer switch in the 1890's.

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