Updated 18-XI-2018

Ludwig K. Böhm

This article was written by fellow lamp engineer and collector Edward J. Covington, and originally appeared on his own website of biographical sketches of persons involved in the lamp industry. Following his passing in February 2017, and with kind permission of his family, Ed's words have been preserved here in the hope of maintaining access to his writings for the benefit of subsequent generations.

Ludwig K. Böhm

In the very early days of lamp making in Edison's laboratory it was necessary to secure the services of a glass blower. In August of 1879 Thomas Edison hired Ludwig Böhm for that position. Böhm developed many of the early bulbs required by Edison. It turned out, however, that Böhm did not stay in the Edison camp very long. There appears to be at least two versions of the story on why the Edison-Böhm relationship did not last long.

One version is due to Conot (ref. 12, pg 178):
"The person who had most difficulty adjusting to the new atmosphere of the mini boom town was Ludwig Böhm. He was sensitive, artistic, and egotistic. At midnight suppers in the lab he played the zither and yodeled. He liked children, and made toy glass figures, including trick swans that squirted a fine spray of water into one's face when one blew into their tails. He had started working side by side with Upton in the laboratory, then been moved into the adjacent, small photographic and blueprint shed. (This, thereupon, acquired the name of the Little Glass House). He now spent much of his time at the lamp factory. There he came into contact with William Holzer, a balding, handlebar-moustachioed Philadelphia glassblower who had dropped off the train while on his way to the Corning Glass Works and had been hired in February. While Böhm prided himself on his craftsmanship, Holzer stressed productivity, and made iron molds to increase output....". The Little Glass House is shown below.

The Little Glass House at Menlo Park
"It was no contest. Böhm, who looked like a gawky toy soldier with his lorgnette and funny little red hat, was the butt of the rowdy Americans' jokes. He moved out of Sarah Jordan's boardinghouse, where men were doubling and tripling up in the rooms, and put up a bed in the attic of the Glass house. There the men proceeded to drive him into a frenzy by tossing rocks onto the roof at night, tapping on the windows with a remote-controlled device, and running the "corpse reviver," a ratchet that sounded like a derailing freight train, along the walls of the shed.

"One night, in retaliation, Böhm unleashed a shotgun blast over the heads of the tormentors. The next day when he sat down at Sarah Jordan's boardinghouse to eat, every man slammed a club, knife, or pistol onto the table. Niel Van Cleve, another of Edison's brothers-in-law, waved a huge army revolver and imperiously commanded: 'Böhm! Pass the butter!'

"Böhm bolted. Aggrieved, he complained to Edison in mid-October that he had received a 'kind of treatment which no man with any sense of honor can bear. I do not want to be bossed by people that understand less than I. Things have gone too far.' He resigned."

There has been another reason given why Böhm left the employ of Edison. The second version conveys a much different story. According to Jehl (ref. 10, pg 611):
"Here I mention another visitor, well known at that time, who appeared at the laboratory one day. His name was Hiram S. Maxim....

"Maxim was very much interested in what Edison showed him and the two spent almost a day together. Edison explained to him how the paper filaments were made and carbonized and all about the glass-blowing part. In fact, Maxim spent nearly two hours with Edison in the glass house where Boehm (Böhm), Holzer and Hipple were working....

"Maxim did not run to New York and give his opinion to a newspaper, but went to his laboratory and began trying to make a lamp after Edison's ideas. He had no success, however, and after a few weeks sent to Menlo Park an emissary who got in touch with Boehm....The deportment of Boehm changed perceptively and soon became suspicious. He was changing his allegiance to Maxim. In fact he soon departed from Menlo Park and entered that electrician's employ."

Apparently Böhm was dismissed.

Ludwig Karl Böhm was born in the town of Lauscha, Germany, on June 16, 18597. From 1871 to 1878 he was a pupil, and then assistant, to Heinrich Geissler (1814-1879), the inventor of a mercury pump as well as Geissler tubes3. In August of 1879 Böhm was employed by Edison. He left Edison to be assistant to Hiram S. Maxim at the United States Electric Lighting Company in the latter part of 1880. It was during this association with Maxim that Böhm designed a filament that was shaped like a Maltese Cross (ref. 12, pg 179); this shape was used in the early Maxim lamp. From there he entered the employ of the American Electric Light Company in the summer of 1881. While employed by American Electric Böhm patented a stopper lamp1. In 1882 Böhm returned to Germany for the purpose of study and in 1886 he received the Ph.D. degree from the University of Freiburg (ref. 10, pg 613) and a diploma of the Royal Bavarian School of Industries in Munich7.

Upon his return to the United States in 1887 Böhm was put in charge of the chemical department and was chemist for the American Ultramarine and Globe Aniline Works. In 1888 he did original research on fossil resins for the Dawson-Valentine Company.

Böhm then worked a short while for the Thomson-Houston Company, experimenting with different kinds of filaments. After his employment with Thomson-Houston, Böhm set up an office in New York City as a consulting electrical and chemical expert.

The image of Dr. Böhm was scanned from Electrical Review, Vol 22, No 8, Apr 15, 1893, pg 105. The photograph of The Little Glass House was scanned from the General Electric Lamp Division News, Vol 10, No 6, Feb 9, 1962, pg 1.

  1. US 248,156; Electric Lamp; Oct 11, 1881; American Electric Light Company
  2. US 248,279; Combination Vacuum Pump; Oct 18, 1881; American Electric Light Company
  3. US 250,192; Electric Lamp; Nov 29, 1881, American Electric Light Company
  4. US 250,193; Electric Lamp; Nov 29, 1881; American Electric Light Company
  5. US 516,079; Process of Making Incandescent Elements; Mar 6, 1894; Sterling Light Company of Trenton, NJ and NY, NY
  6. US 552,036; Material for Incandescent Conductors; Dec 24, 1895; —
  7. US 572,101; Composition of Material for Incandescent Gas-Lights; Dec 1, 1896; American Incandescent Light Co. of WV
  8. US 606,441; Acetylene Gas Tip; Jun 28, 1898; Electro Gas Company, of West Virginia
  9. US 609,494; Acetylene Gas Generator; Aug 23, 1898; Electro Gas Company, of West Virginia
  10. US 630,966; Carbid Furnace; Aug 15, 1899; Electro Gas Company, of West Virginia
  11. US 659,784; Process of Manufacturing Paper from Straw; Oct 16, 1900; William S. MacClymont
  12. US 659,785; Pulp Washing and Straining Machine; Oct 16, 1900; William S. MacClymont
  13. US 668,033; Refrigerator Car; Feb 12, 1901; —
  14. US 758,348; Window Attachment; Apr 26, 1904; Commercial Railway Equipment Company, of New York, NY
  15. US 875,315; Process of Making Paper-Pulp from Straw; Dec 31, 1907; —

Listed above are U.S. patents granted to Ludwig Böhm; they are given in order of patent number, name, date, assignor. From the descriptions of Böhm's 15 US patents it is revealed that only the first four and the sixth were related to the electric incandescent lamp. Subjects dealt with in the other patents included incandescent gas mantle material, gas tip design, gas generator, furnace, railroad refrigerator car, railroad window attachment and processes for making paper pulp from straw. Based on the application dates of Böhm's patents and the information contained in the patents, it appears Ludwig Böhm became a citizen of the United States sometime between May 25, 1898 and March 2, 1900.

  1. "Separable or Detachable Incandescent Lamps", Dr. L.K.Böhm, Electrical World, Vol XX, No 23, Dec 3 1892, p.356.
  2. "Incandescent Lamp Litigation", Electrical Engineer, Vol.XV, No.249, Feb 8 1893, p.149.
  3. "The Edison Lamp Patents-Additional Affidavits", Electrical World, Vol.XXI, No.26, Feb 11 1893, p.102.
  4. "Incandescent Lamp Litigation", Electrical Engineer, Vol.XV, No.251, Feb 22 1893, p.188.
  5. "The Full Text of Judge Colt's Decision in the Edison-Beacon Incandescent Lamp Suit", Electrical Review, Vol.22, Feb 25 1893, p.333 (Supplement).
  6. "The Lamp Decision", Electrical World, Vol.XXI, No.8, Feb 25 1893, p.142.
  7. "Dr. Ludwig K. Böhm", Electrical Review, Vol.22, No.8, Apr 15 1893, p.105.
  8. "Inert Gases in Modern Incandescent Lamps", Dr. L.K.Böhm, Electrical World, Vol.XXII, No.25, Dec 16 1893.
  9. "An Electro Pyrometer", L.K.Böhm, Electrical World, Vol.XXIX, No.11, Mar 13 1897, p.366.
  10. "Menlo Park Reminiscences, Vol.2", Francis Jehl, The Edison Institute, Dearborn, MI, 1938, pp.486,495,516,532,604,605,612,708,801.
  11. "The Electrical Manufacturers, 1875-1900, A Study in Competition, Entrepreneurship, Technical Change, and Economic Growth", Harold C. Passer, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1953, pp.147,189.
  12. "A Streak of Luck", Robert Conot, Seaview Books, New York, 1979, pp.151,178.
  13. U.S. Patents granted to Ludwig Böhm from 1881-1907: 248156; 248279; 250192; 250193; 516079; 552036; 572101; 606441; 609494; 630966; 659784; 659785; 668033; 758348; 875315.