Who Is Agapito Flores?

The Controversy Over the Fluorescent Lamp

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No one knows who first proposed that Agapito Flores, a Filipino electrician who lived and worked in the early 20th century, invented the first fluorescent lamp. The controversy has raged for years, in spite of evidence to the contrary. Some have gone so far as to claim that the word "fluorescent" was derived from his last name. However, if you consider the information below, which summarizes what we can verify about the development of the lamp, you'll see that the claim is bogus.

The Origin of Fluorescence

Fluorescence has been observed by many scientists as far back as the 16th century, but it was Irish physicist and mathematician George Gabriel Stokes who finally explained the phenomenon in an 1852 paper on the wavelength properties of light. In his paper, Stokes described how uranium glass and the mineral fluorspar could transform invisible ultra-violet light into visible light of greater wavelengths.  He referred to this phenomenon as "dispersive reflection," but wrote:

“I confess that I do not like this term. I am almost inclined to coin a word, and call the appearance  'fluorescence'  from fluor-spar, as the analogous term opalescence is derived from the name of a mineral.”

In 1857, the French physicist Alexandre E. Becquerel, who had investigated both fluorescence and phosphorescence, theorized about building fluorescent tubes similar to those made today.

Let There Be Light

About forty years after Becquerel's theories, on May 19, 1896, Thomas Edison filed for a patent for a fluorescent lamp. He filed a second application in 1906, and finally received the patent on September 10, 1907. Instead of utilizing ultraviolet light, Edison's version employed x-rays, which may be why Edison's company never produced the lamps commercially. The inventor seemed to lose interest in the lamp after one of his assistants died of radiation poisoning.

American Peter Cooper Hewitt patented the first low-pressure mercury vapor lamp in 1901 (U.S. patent 889,692), which is considered the very first prototype of today's modern fluorescent lights.

Edmund Germer, who invented a high-pressure vapor lamp, also invented an improved fluorescent lamp. In 1927, he co-patented an experimental fluorescent lamp with Friedrich Meyer and Hans Spanner.

Myth and Fact 

Agapito Flores was born in Guiguinto, Bulacan, the Philippines, on September 28, 1897. As a young man, he worked as an apprentice in a machine shop and later moved to Tondo, Manila, where he trained at a vocational school to become an electrician.

According to the myth surrounding his supposed invention of the fluorescent lamp, Flores received a French patent for a fluorescent bulb, and, as it has been claimed, the General Electric Company subsequently bought his patent rights and manufactured his version of the fluorescent bulb. 

It's quite a story, but it ignores the fact that Flores was born 40 years after Becquerel first explored the phenomenon of fluorescence. And he was only four years old when Hewitt patented his mercury vapor lamp. 

Furthermore, the term "fluorescent" could not have been coined in homage to Flores, since it predates Flores's birth by 45 years, as George Stokes' paper proves.

According to Dr. Benito Vergara of the Philippine Science Heritage Center, "As far as I could learn, a certain 'Flores' presented the idea of fluorescent light to Manuel Quezon when he became president." But, as Dr. Vergara goes on to say, at that time, General Electric Co. had already presented the fluorescent light to the public.

So Agapito Flores may or may not have explored the possibilities of fluorescence, but he neither gave it its name nor invented the lamp that used it as illumination.