On December 12, 1876, Russian engineer Pavel Yablochkov invented a new type of an arc light. The so-called “electric candle” was put to wide practical use and greatly accelerated the development of electric lighting.
Yablochkov was a Russian-born telegraph engineer who moved to Paris in 1875. He worked in a laboratory of a famous academician Louis Breguet and in 1876 he developed the “Yablochkov’s candle.”
It was affordable and simple compared to previous arc lamp designs. The candle consisted of two parallel carbon rods separated by a porcelain insert that gradually vaporized as the carbons burned away and produced light. Because the carbons stood upright the candle did not require complex controls, which increased the cost and complexity of other kinds of arc lights.
In 1878 Yablochkov was given the exclusive opportunity to demonstrate his invention at a Paris exhibition. He impressed the audience by illuminating the entire floor with a very bright, slightly bluish electric light.
The success of Yablochkov's candle surpassed all expectations. Mass media all around the world carried screaming headlines like "The invention of a retired Russian military engineer Yablochkov – a new era in technology," "Northern Light, a Russian light – a miracle of our time," "Russia – the birthplace of electricity."
The arc lights were soon installed along one of the most beautiful roads of Paris, Avenue de l'Opera. That same year the British Metropolitan Board of Works installed the candles on the Victoria Embankment, while the City of London used them to light Billingsgate fish market, the Mansion House and Holborn Viaduct.
Yablochkov’s candle brought electric light to public attention with companies being set up around the world for commercial exploitation. Each candle cost around 20 cents and burned for one-and-a-half hours. However, the major problem with the candle was that the carbon had to be replaced at the end of that time and a new candle had to be inserted into the lamp. For a few years Yablochkov’s system was widely used, but it was ultimately superseded by incandescent lighting.