Joseph Wilson Swan was born on Oct. 31, 1828, in Sunderland, and he served an apprenticeship with a pharmacist there. He came to Gateshead about 1845 to join John Mawson, his brother-in-law, who had a chemist's shop and chemical works in Newcastle. He later became a partner and worked at the company premises at 13 Mosley Street. In 1860 Swan developed a primitive electric light bulb that used a filament of carbonised paper in an evacuated glass bulb. However, the lack of good vacuum and an adequate electric source resulted in a short lifetime for the bulb and an inefficient light.
Swan's first wife died in 1862. In 1869 he moved to Underhill and married again (to his sister in law), and there his second family of children was born. The house is now a residential home.
When working with wet photographic plates, he noticed that heat increased the sensitivity of the silver bromide emulsion. By 1871 he had devised a method of drying the wet plates, initiating the age of convenience in photography. Eight years later he patented bromide paper, the paper commonly used in modern photographic prints.
Joseph Swan invented a successful electric lamp in 1878. On December 18 1878 he demonstrated his incandescent electric light bulb to an audience at the Newcastle Chemical Society and though it unfortunately burned out after only a few minutes it demonstrated the potential. On the 19th January 1879 he demonstrated his incandescent electric light bulb once again during a lecture to an audience at the Athenaeum in Fawcett Street, Sunderland. Mosley Street in Newcastle was the first street in the world to be lit using incandescent electricity while Underhill in Gateshead was the first house in the world to be lit by electricity.
On October 20th 1880 Swan once again demonstrated his incandescent electric light bulb, this time at the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society. In front of an eminent audience, he had seventy gas jets turned down and their light immediately replaced by twenty electric bulbs. The potential for electric light was fully understood by Sir William Armstrong who installed Swan's light bulbs at his house at Cragside, Northumberland.
Swan was knighted in 1904. He died on May 27, 1914, in Warlingham, Surrey.