In a single century science has converted the dimly lighted nights with their feeble flickering flames into artificial daytime. In this brief span of years the production of light has advanced far from the primitive flames in use at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but, as has been noted in another chapter, great improvements in light-production are still possible. Nevertheless, the wonderful developments in the last four decades, which created the arc-lamps, the gas-mantle, the mercury-vapor lamps, and the series of electric incandescent-filament lamps, have contributed much to the efficiency, safety, health, and happiness of mankind.
The early open-flame lamps not only were sources of danger but their feeble varying intensity caused serious damage to the eyesight of miners. This factor is always present in inadequate and improper lighting, but its influence is noticeable in coal-mining in the nervous disease affecting the eyes which is known as nystagmus. The symptoms of the disease are inability to see at night and the dazzling effect of ordinary lamps. Finally objects appear to the sufferer to dance about and his vision is generally very much disturbed.
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The oil-lamps used in coal-mining have a luminous intensity equivalent to about one to four candles, but owing to the atmospheric conditions in the mines a flame does not burn as brightly as in the fresh air. The possibility of explosion due to the open flame was eliminated by surrounding it with a metal gauze. Davy was the inventor of this device and his safety lamp introduced about a hundred years ago has been a boon to the coal-miner. Various improvements have been devised, but Davy’s lamp contained the essentials of a safety device. The flame is surrounded by a cylinder of metal gauze which by forming a much cooler boundary prevents the mine-gas from becoming heated locally by the lamp flame to a sufficient temperature to ignite and consequently to explode. This device not only keeps the flame from igniting the gas but it also serves as an indicator of the amount of gas present, by the variation in the size and appearance of the tip of the flame. However, the gauze reduces the luminous output, and as it accumulates soot and dust the light is greatly diminished. One of these lamps is about as luminous as a candle, initially, but its intensity is often reduced by accumulations upon the gauze to only one fifth of the initial value.
Artificial light is so superior to natural light in many respects that mankind has acquired the habit of retiring many hours after darkness has fallen, a result of which has brought forth the issue known as “daylight saving.” Doubtless, daylight should be used whenever possible, but there are two sides to the question. In the first place, it costs something to bring daylight indoors. The architectural construction of windows and skylights increases the cost of daylight. Light-courts, by sacrificing valuable floor-area, add to the expense.
The maintenance of windows and sky lights is an appreciable item. Considering these and other factors, it can be seen that daylight indoors is expensive; and as it is also undependable, a supplementary system of artificial lighting is generally necessary. In fact, it is easy to show in some cases that artificial lighting is cheaper than natural lighting.
From earliest times the beacon-fire has sent forth messages from hilltops or across inaccessible places. In this country, when the Indian was monarch of the vast areas of forest and prairie, he spread news broadcast to roving tribesmen by means of the signal-fire, and he flashed his code by covering and uncovering it. Castaways, whether in fiction or in reality, instinctively turn to the beacon-fire as a mode of attracting a passing ship.
On every hand throughout the ages this simple means of communication has been employed; therefore, it is not surprising that mankind has applied his ingenuity to the perfection of signaling by means of light, which has its own peculiar fields and advantages. Of course, wireless telephony and telegraphy will replace light-signaling to some extent, but there are many fields in which the last-named is still supreme. In fact, during the recent war much use was made of light in this manner and devices were developed despite the many other available means of signaling. One of the chief advantages of light as a signal is that it is so easily controlled and directed in a straight line. Wireless waves, for example, are radiated broadcast to be intercepted by the enemy.
The beginning of light-signaling is hidden in the obscurity of the past. Of course, the most primitive light-signals were wood fires, but it is likely that man early utilized the mirror to reflect the sun’s image and thus laid the foundation of the modern heliograph.
Experiments are being prosecuted to ascertain the possibilities of artificial light in the forcing of plant-growth, and even chickens are made to work longer hours by its use.
Artificial light is now modified in color or spectral character to meet many requirements. Daylight has been reproduced in spectral quality so that certain processes requiring accurate discrimination of color are now prosecuted twenty-four hours a day under artificial daylight. Colored light is made of the correct quality which does not affect photographic plates of various sensibilities. Monochromatic light is utilized in photo-micrography for the best rendition of detail. Light-waves have been utilized as standards of length because they are invariable and fundamental. Numerous other interesting adaptations of artificial light are in daily use.
It has ever been true since the advent of artificial light that the intellect has been largely nourished after the completion of the day’s work. The highly developed artificial lighting of the present time may account for much of the vast industry of publication. Books, magazines, and newspapers owe much to convenient and inexpensive artificial light, for without it fewer hours would be available for recreation and advancement through reading. Schools, libraries, and art museums may be attended at night for the betterment of the human race. The immortal Lincoln, it is said, gained his early education largely by the light of the fireplace. But all were not endowed with the persistence of Lincoln, so that illiteracy was more common in his day than in the present age of adequate illumination.
The theatrical stage not only depends for its effectiveness upon artificial light but owes its existence and development largely to this agency. In the moving-picture theater, pictures are projected upon the screen by means of it and even the production of the pictures is independent of daylight. These and a vast number of recreational activities owe much, and in some cases their existence, to artificial light.