Segments in this Video

Introduction: Light: How We Got to Now with Steven Johnson (02:31)


This brief overview of light technology orients viewers with excerpts from the upcoming program.

Candle (02:00)

Candles have been around for thousands of years. The first candles were difficult to make and released noxious fumes.

Whales (02:34)

Johnson goes whale watching. Whales were once hunted for their blubber.

Spermaceti (03:28)

Learn how the oil from a sperm whale's head was harvested. Spermaceti oil burns cleanly, revolutionizing artificial lighting.

New Business Idea (02:00)

The Spermaceti business was the first monopoly. Spermaceti oil triggers much new advancement in society.

Sleep Patterns (02:10)

Prior to artificial lighting, most people slept in two shifts. After artificial lighting, they were able to stay up later, combining the two sleep sessions.

Five Points (02:40)

Journalist Jacob Riis reports on the New York neighborhood, highlighting the quality of life in the slums.

Photography (03:05)

Riis wants to photograph inside the tenement apartments, but it is too dark. Learn about early flash technology.

Social Reform (03:12)

Riis took photos in the slums, without any notice to residents. He then publishes the photos and projects photos on a tour.

Light Bulb (03:06)

Decades before Edison took interest, others patented light bulbs.

Edison (03:25)

Edison initially lied about the success of his first light bulb. By 1880, light bulbs were in mass production.

Electricity Spreads (02:00)

Learn how bringing electricity into cities and homes changed society.

Sports Lighting (03:51)

R.J. Swackhammer, a GE lighting designer, created the lighting layout for the first Minor League Baseball night game in 1930

Colored Light (03:10)

Georges Claude uses neon gas to create the first neon tube light.

Franchise (02:15)

Claude creates the franchise business model with his neon lights. Sign writer Tom Young begins using neon lights in Las Vegas.

Young Electric Sign Company (03:32)

Young brings a completely new aesthetic and scale to sign writing. The company still provides lights and signs in Las Vegas.

Laser (03:40)

The first use of the laser was for scanning barcodes in stores. Learn the many uses for lasers today.

National Ignition Facility (01:59)

This company plans to use laser light to power nuclear fusion. Learn how this process can produce clean fuel.

Laser Energy (02:32)

Learn how lasers are used to create the hottest spot in the solar system. Someday soon the world could be powered by fusion energy created by lasers.

Conclusion (01:12)

Johnson reflects on the story of light.

Credits: Light: How We Got to Now with Steven Johnson (00:30)

Credits: Light: How We Got to Now with Steven Johnson

For additional digital leasing and purchase options contact a media consultant at 800-257-5126
(press option 3) or

Light: How We Got to Now with Steven Johnson

Part of the Series : How We Got to Now with Steven Johnson
3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



Johnson relates the story of people who take us out of the dark and into the light. Hear about Edison’s light bulb, which he didn’t actually invent, and learn how an 18th-century ship’s skipper discovered a source of illumination by putting a kid inside a whale’s head. See how a French scientist accidentally discovered how to create neon light, leading to a revolution in advertising. Dispelling the myth of the individual “eureka” moment, Johnson reveals that teamwork and collaboration led the way to the most transformative ideas. Whether changing our genetic make-up, altering the world’s sleeping patterns, transforming architecture, taking us into space or triggering one of the great social reforms in American history, the pioneers of light have made themselves indispensable throughout human history.

Length: 56 minutes

Item#: BVL60744

Copyright date: ©2014

Closed Captioned

Performance Rights

Prices include public performance rights.

Not available to Home Video, Dealer and Publisher customers.

Only available in USA and Canada.