Russia is the birthplace of electricity
Russia is the birthplace of electricity

“Russia is the birthplace of electricity”, “Russian light”, “Light comes to us from the North - from Russia”, such headlines were full of the world press 140 years ago. The light of electricity from experimental laboratories was first brought to city streets not by Thomas Edison, as is commonly believed all over the world, but by our brilliant compatriot Pavel Yablochkov, who was born 170 years ago.

The arc candles he created, which made a triumphant march across the planet, were later replaced by incandescent lamps. Then the glory of a real pioneer went into deep shadow, and this is unfair. After all, the Russian inventor also gave civilization a transformer, opened the era of the use of alternating current.

The World Exhibition of 1878 in Paris on the Champ de Mars roared with many thousands of voices, smelled of expensive perfumes and cigars, sparkled with a sea of ​​lights. Among the technical curiosities, the main magnet was, by all accounts, the electric light pavilion. Well, the crown exhibit is Yablochkov's candles, which filled not only the exhibition, but also the Opera Square with adjoining boulevards with a bright glow.

A heavy, two-meter-tall gentleman with a mane of dark hair around a large head, with a high forehead and a thick beard - everyone here called him monsieur Paul Yablochkoff - was, it seems, at the peak of success. A year and a half ago, after an exhibition in London, the world press was full of headlines like “Light comes to us from the North - from Russia”; "Russia is the birthplace of electricity." Its arc lamps have been recognized as a major technical sensation. The enterprising French founded the company and mastered the daily production of 8000 candles, which flew like hot cakes.


“Russian light,” but it shines and is sold in Paris,”Yablochkov smiled bitterly, bowing to the merchants who were interested in the cost of the product. The information is not secret: only twenty kopecks for Russian money; two parallel carbon rods connected by a thin metal thread, and between them a kaolin insulator, which evaporated as the electrodes burned out. You apply current from the dynamo and for an hour and a half you see a bright bluish glow.

In his head, he has already built a scheme for the automatic replacement of burnt elements and the addition of salts to kaolin in order to color the rays in different tones. After all, he is not only an electrician, but also a good chemist.

The Parisian entrepreneur Deneyrouz calls the newly formed company after him. Pavel Nikolaevich has a significant block of shares, a good salary, all the opportunities to conduct experiments. His candles are also known in Russia. They just bear a foreign trade mark, and this thought makes him frown again and again …


Then there was a partnership on shares, created in conjunction with Nikolai Glukhov, a retired staff captain of artillery, an equally obsessed man in terms of invention. Orders? They, due to the enormous curiosity of the metropolitan public, came in, but the loans collected for research outweighed the profits and failed the whole business. I had to flee to Paris so as not to end up in a hole in debt. Someone, but a businessman Yablochkov was definitely not. He did not become them abroad, although he paid off his household debts in full. Thanks to academician Louis Breguet, who believed in the talent of the fugitive Russian, who provided the laboratory and financial support.

Here, in the French capital, in a restaurant, one day it dawned on him: completely mechanically, he laid out two pencils next to the tablecloth, and - eureka! Two parallel electrodes, separated by a cheap dielectric, will henceforth shine without any adjustment.


Now that his la lumiere russe is solemnly lighting up from New York to Bombay, he needs more again. Not money or fame (let the French salespeople bother about this) - to move on, and above all to illuminate Russia. He was ready a year ago to give his candle to the Russian Naval Department. Not interested. And now the guests from the Motherland are calling to return, to end the era of gas lamps in cities and torches in villages. At the exhibition in Paris, the Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich approached him in company with the famous pianist Nikolai Rubinstein, promising patronage and help.

Tied hand and foot by a contract, Yablochkov suddenly decides: he will buy out the license for independent work in Russia - at the price of selling all his shares for a million francs, they burn with fire. After all, in addition to electric candles, his luggage contains patents for an alternator, methods of "crushing light" using Leyden jars, and wonderful ideas in electrochemistry.


He clearly saw what it would be: amazement on the faces of the French (this crazy Russian refuses a whole fortune!), A triumphant return to St. Petersburg, solemn meetings and receptions. The first lanterns with his candles will shine in Kronstadt, the Winter Palace, on the military ships Peter the Great and Vice-Admiral Popov. And then there will be a grandiose illumination at the coronation of Alexander III. Yablochkov's candles will scatter across the country: Moscow, Nizhny, Poltava, Krasnodar …

Progress does not stand still. The incandescent light bulb of Alexander Lodygin, the idea of ​​which was "borrowed" and brought to mind by the cunning overseas businessman Edison, slowly but surely replaced the arc candles. It burns immeasurably longer, albeit dimmer, and does not give such heat - that is, it is more suitable for small rooms.

Having hired a direct competitor, Lodygin, who was in distress, Pavel Nikolayevich will improve his own brainchild for several more years, at the same time giving the development of a colleague a course and calling Edison a thief in print.


In the 1920s, electric incandescent lamps lit up in the huts of Russian peasants. In the Soviet press they were nicknamed "Ilyich's lamps". There was a certain slyness in this. In the USSR, bulbs were initially used mainly by German ones - from Siemens. The international patent belonged to the American company of Thomas Edison. But the true inventor of the incandescent lamp is Alexander Nikolaevich Lodygin, a Russian engineer of great talent and dramatic destiny. His name, little known even in his homeland, deserves a special record on the historical tablets of the Fatherland.

Moderately bright and warm light of a light bulb with an incandescent tungsten spring, many of us in infancy see even earlier than the light of the sun. Of course, this was not always the case. The electric lamp has many fathers, starting with Academician Vasily Petrov, who lit an electric arc in his laboratory in St. Petersburg in 1802. Since then, many have tried to tame the glow of various materials through which an electric current is passed. Among the "tamers" of electric light are the now half-forgotten Russian inventors A.I. Shpakovsky and V.N. Chikolev, German Goebel, Englishman Swan. The name of our compatriot Pavel Yablochkov, who created the first serial "electric candle" on coal rods, conquered European capitals in the blink of an eye and was nicknamed "the Russian Sun" in the local press, rose as a bright star in the scientific horizon. Alas, having flashed dazzlingly in the mid-1870s, Yablochkov's candles went out just as quickly. They had a significant flaw: the burnt coals had to be replaced with new ones soon. In addition, they gave such a "hot" light that it was impossible to breathe in the small room. So it was possible to illuminate only streets and spacious rooms.

The man who first guessed to pump air out of a glass lamp bulb and then replace coal with refractory tungsten was a Tambov nobleman, a former officer, populist and engineer with the soul of a dreamer Alexander Nikolaevich Lodygin.


The American inventor and entrepreneur Thomas Alva Edison, ironically born in the same year (1847) with Lodygin and Yablochkov, bypassed the Russian creator, being the “father of electric light” for the entire Western world.

Add a description To be fair, I must say that Edison came up with a modern lamp shape, a screw base with a socket, plug, socket, fuses. And in general he did a lot for the mass use of electric lighting. But the bird-idea and the first "chicks" were born in the head and the St. Petersburg laboratory of Alexander Lodygin. The paradox: the electric lamp became a by-product of the realization of his main youthful dream - to create an electric plane, "a flying machine heavier than air on electric traction, capable of lifting up to 2 thousand pounds of cargo", and in particular bombs for military purposes. "Letak", as he called it, was equipped with two propellers, one of which pulled the apparatus in a horizontal plane, the other lifted it up. The prototype of the helicopter, invented half a century before the invention of another Russian genius Igor Sikorsky, long before the first flights of the Wright brothers.

Oh, he was a man of enchanting and very instructive fate for us - Russian descendants! The impoverished nobles of the Tambov province of the Lodygins descended from the Moscow boyar of the time of Ivan Kalita, Andrei Kobyla, a common ancestor with the royal house of the Romanovs. As a ten-year-old boy in the hereditary village of Stenshino, Sasha Lodygin built wings, attached them behind his back and, like Icarus, jumped from the roof of the bathhouse. It was bruised. According to ancestral tradition, he entered the military, studying at the Tambov and Voronezh cadet corps, served as a cadet in the 71st Belevsky regiment and graduated from the Moscow cadet infantry school. But he was already irresistibly drawn by physics and technology. To the bewilderment of his colleagues and the horror of his parents, Lodygin retired and got a job at the Tula Arms Plant as a simple hammer, since he was distinguished by a fair amount of physical strength. To do this, he even had to hide his noble origins. So he began to master the technique "from below", at the same time earning money to build his "summer". Then St. Petersburg - work as a locksmith at the metallurgical plant of the Prince of Oldenburg, and in the evenings - lectures at the University and the Technological Institute, locksmith lessons in a group of young "populists", among whom his first love is Princess Drutskaya-Sokolnitskaya.


The electric plane is thought out to the smallest detail: heating, navigation, a host of other devices that have become, as it were, an outline of engineering creativity for life. Among them was a seemingly minor detail - an electric bulb to illuminate the cockpit.

But while this is a trifle for him, he makes an appointment with the military department and shows the generals the drawings of the electric plane. The inventor was condescendingly listened to and put the project in a secret archive. Friends advise frustrated Alexander to offer his "summer" to France, which is fighting with Prussia. And so, having collected 98 rubles for the road, Lodygin went to Paris. In an army jacket, greasy boots and a red cotton shirt worn out. At the same time, under the arm of the Russian fellow - a roll of drawings and calculations. At a stop in Geneva, the crowd, excited by the strange appearance of the visitor, considered him a Prussian spy and had already dragged him to hang on a gas lamp. The only thing that saved was the intervention of the police.

Surprisingly, an unknown Russian receives not only an audience with the over-employed Minister of War of France Gambetta, but also permission to build his apparatus at the Creusot factories. With 50,000 francs to boot. Soon, however, the Prussians entered Paris, and the Russian unique had to go back to his homeland, unhappy.

Continuing to work and study, Lodygin in St. Petersburg has already purposefully taken up electric light. By the end of 1872, the inventor, after hundreds of experiments, with the help of the Didrichson brothers, mechanics, had found a way to create rarefied air in a flask, where coal rods could burn for hours. In parallel, Lodygin managed to solve the old problem of "fragmentation of light", i.e. inclusion of a large number of light sources in the circuit of one electric current generator.


On an autumn evening in 1873, onlookers flocked to Odessa Street, on the corner of which Lodygin's laboratory was located. For the first time in the world, the kerosene lamps were replaced by incandescent lamps on two street lamps, emitting a bright white light. Those who came were convinced that it was much more convenient to read newspapers this way. The action made a splash in the capital. Fashion store owners lined up for new lamps. Electric lighting was successfully used in the repair of caissons at the Admiralty Docks. The patriarch of electrical engineering, the famous Boris Jacobi, gave him a positive review. As a result, Alexander Lodygin with a two-year delay receives the Privilege of the Russian Empire (patent) for "Method and Apparatus for Cheap Electric Lighting", and even earlier - patents in dozens of countries around the world. At the Academy of Sciences he is awarded the prestigious Lomonosov Prize.

Inspired by success, he, together with Vasily Didrikhson, founded the company "Russian Association of Electric Lighting Lodygin and Co." But the talent of an inventor and an entrepreneur are two different things. And the latter, unlike his overseas counterpart, Lodygin clearly did not possess. The businessmen, who had come running to the Lodyginsky world in his "shareholder", instead of energetic improvement and promotion of the invention (which the inventor had hoped for), embarked on unrestrained stock market speculations, counting on future superprofits. The natural ending was the bankruptcy of the society.

In 1884, Lodygin was awarded the Order of Stanislav 3rd degree for the lamps that won the Grand Prix at an exhibition in Vienna. And at the same time, the government begins negotiations with foreign firms on a long-term project for gas lighting in Russian cities. How familiar is that, isn't it? Lodygin is discouraged and offended.


For three years, the famous inventor disappears from the capital, and no one, except close friends, knows where he is. And he, together with a group of like-minded "populists" on the Crimean coast, creates a colony-community. On the ransomed section of the coast near Tuapse, neat shacks have grown, which Alexander Nikolayevich did not fail to illuminate with his lamps. Together with his comrades, he sets up gardens, walks on feluccas to fish in the sea. He's really happy. However, the local authorities, frightened by the free settlement of St. Petersburg guests, find a way to ban the colony.

Add a description At this time, after a wave of revolutionary terror, arrests of “populists” are taking place in both capitals, among whom Lodygin's close acquaintances are increasingly coming across … He is strongly advised to go abroad for a while out of sin. The "temporary" departure lasted for 23 years …

The foreign odyssey of Alexander Lodygin is a page worthy of a separate story. We will only mention briefly that the inventor changed his residence several times in Paris and in different cities of the United States, worked in the company of Edison's main competitor - George Westinghouse - with the legendary Serb Nikola Tesla. In Paris, Lodygin built the world's first electric car, in the USA he led the construction of the first American subways, factories for the production of ferrochrome and ferro-tungsten. In general, the United States and the world owe him the birth of a new industry - industrial electrothermal treatment. Along the way, he invented many practical "little things", such as an electric furnace, an apparatus for welding and cutting metals. In Paris, Alexander Nikolaevich married the German journalist Alma Schmidt, who later gave birth to two daughters.

Lodygin did not stop improving his lamp, not wanting to concede the palm to Edison.Bombarding the US Patent Office with his new applications, he considered the lamp work complete only after he patented a tungsten filament and created a series of electric furnaces for refractory metals.

However, in the field of patent trickery and business intrigue, the Russian engineer could not compete with Edison. The American patiently waited until the Lodygin patents expired, and in 1890 he received his own patent for an incandescent lamp with a bamboo electrode, immediately opening its industrial production.


The decline of the "Yablochkov candle" towards the end of the century is becoming more and more obvious, the flow of orders is melting before our eyes, the former patrons are already talking to him through their lips, and the fans are already praying to other gods. At the World Exhibition in Paris in 1889, one hundred of his lanterns will shine for the last time, already as a historical rarity. The Lodygin-Edison light bulb with a thin tungsten filament in a vacuum flask will finally win.


In the story "about an incandescent lamp" there is a place for both a detective story and reflections on the Russian mentality. After all, Edison began to deal with the light bulb after the midshipman A.N. Khotinsky, sent to the United States to receive cruisers built by order of the Russian Empire, visited Edison's laboratory, handing over to the latter (in the simplicity of his soul?) Lodygin's incandescent lamp. Having spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, the American genius could not achieve Lodygin's success for a long time, and then for just as long he could not get around his international patents, which the Russian inventor could not support for years. Well, he did not know how to accumulate and increase his earnings! Thomas Alvovich was as consistent as a skating rink. The last obstacle to the world monopoly on electric light was the Lodyginsky patent for a lamp with a tungsten filament. He helped Edison in this … Lodygin himself. Longing for his homeland and not having the means to return, the Russian engineer in 1906, through Edison's dummies, sold the patent for his General Electric lamp for a pittance, which by that time was already under the control of the American "king of inventors". He did everything so that electric lighting began to be considered "Edison's" all over the world, and the name of Lodygin sank into the back streets of special reference books, like some kind of amusing artifact. These efforts have since been carefully supported by the American government and all "civilized humanity."

Having suffered a fiasco, Pavel Nikolayevich Yablochkov will not fall into despair, he will work hard on generators and transformers, wandering between St. Petersburg and Paris. The debunked hero faces monetary and household problems.

Will take to spend the last funds on experiments on electrolysis. Carrying out experiments with chlorine, it will burn the mucous membrane of the lungs, and during another experiment, it will miraculously not burn itself out.

Patents will fall like a cornucopia, but they won't even bring money for research. Weighed down by debts, with his second wife and son Platon, Yablochkov will move to his small homeland, to Saratov, where, suffering from dropsy and no longer getting out of bed, he will continue to work at a low-level hotel in a room at a small hotel. Until the last day of my short life. He was only forty-six.

… In Russia, Alexander Nikolaevich Lodygin was expected to receive moderate recognition of his merits, lectures at the Electrotechnical Institute, a post in the Construction Administration of the St. Petersburg Railway, business trips on plans for the electrification of individual provinces. Immediately after the outbreak of World War II, he submitted an application to the Ministry of War for a "cyclogyr" - an electric vertical take-off aircraft, but was refused.

Already in April 1917, Lodygin proposed to the Provisional Government to finish building his almost ready-made electric plane and was ready to fly to the front on it himself. But he was again dismissed as from an annoying fly. A seriously ill wife left with her daughters to their parents in the United States. And then the elderly inventor chopped the body of his "letak" with an ax, burned the blueprints and, with a heavy heart, on August 16, 1917, followed his family to the United States.

Alexander Nikolaevich rejected the belated invitation from Gleb Krzhizhanovsky to return to his homeland to participate in the development of GOELRO for a simple reason: he no longer got out of bed. In March 1923, when electrification in the USSR was in full swing, Alexander Lodygin was elected an honorary member of the Society of Russian Electrical Engineers. But he did not find out about it - a welcome letter arrived in New York only at the end of March, and on March 16, the addressee died in his Brooklyn apartment. Like everyone else around it, it was brightly lit by "Edison bulbs."

Streets in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Saratov, Perm, Astrakhan, Vladimir, Ryazan and other cities of the country are named in honor of Yablochkov; Saratov Electromechanical College (now the College of Radio Electronics); the prize for the best work in electrical engineering, established in 1947; finally, a crater on the far side of the moon and a technopark in Penza are not a recognition of merit. It is noteworthy that the nationwide fame came to the outstanding inventor and scientist already under Soviet rule.

On the grave monument, restored in 1952 in the village of Sapozhok, Saratov Region at the initiative of the President of the USSR Academy of Sciences Sergei Vavilov, the words of Pavel Nikolayevich Yablochkov are engraved: "Electricity will be supplied to houses like gas or water."

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