Comparing the actual progress of gas and electric lighting, the gas has achieved by far the greater strides; and this is the case even when we compare very recent progress. The improvements connected with gas-making have been steadily progressive; scarcely a year has passed from the date of Murdoch's efforts to the present time, without some or many decided steps having been made. The progress of electric-lighting has been a series of spasmodic leaps, backward as well as forward. As an example of stepping backward, I may refer to what the newspapers have described as the "discoveries" of Mr. Edison, or the use of an incandescent wire, or stick, or sheet of platinum, or platino-iridium; or a thread of carbon, of which the "Swan" and other modern lights are rival modifications.
As far back as 1846 I was engaged in making apparatus and experiments for the purpose of turning to practical account "King's, patent electric light," the actual inventor of which was a young American, named Starr, who died in 1847, when about twenty-five years of age, a victim of overwork and disappointment in his efforts to perfect this invention and a magneto-electric machine, intended to supply the power in accordance with some of the "latest improvements" of 1881 and 1882. I had a share in this venture, and was very enthusiastic until after I had become practically acquainted with the subject. We had no difficulty in obtaining a splendid and perfectly steady light, better than any that are shown at the Crystal Palace. We used platinum, and alloys of platinum and iridium, abandoned them as Edison did more than thirty years later, and then tried a multitude of forms of carbon, including that which constitutes the last "discovery" of Mr. Edison, viz., burned cane. Starr tried this on theoretical grounds, because cane being coated with silica, he predicted that by charring it we should obtain a more compact stick or thread, as the fusion of the silica would hold the carbon-particles together. He finally abandoned this and all the rest in favor of the hard deposit of carbon which lines the inside of gas-retorts, some specimens of which we found to be so hard that we required a lapidary's wheel to cut them into the thin sticks.
Our final wick was a piece of this of square section, and about one eighth of an inch across each way. It was mounted between two forceps—one holding each end, and thus leaving a clear half-inch between. The forceps were soldered to platinum wires, one of which passed upward through the top of the barometer-tube, expanded into a lamp-glass at its upper part. This wire was sealed to the glass as it passed through. The lower wire passed down the middle of the tube. The tube was filled with mercury and inverted over a cup of mercury. Being thirty inches long up to the bottom of the expanded portion, or lamp-globe, the mercury fell below this and left a Torricellian vacuum there. One pole of the battery, or dynamo-machine, was connected with the mercury in the cup, and the other with the upper wire. The