Wednesday, December 14, 2016


COOL LIGHTS. The Meralco Tower all lit up for the annual carnival. The invention of neon and fluorescent lamps, which were more efficient than ordinary incandescent bulbs, is often attributed to Filipino Agapito Flores, whose story has since been debunked. A 1940  feature in a Kapampangan daily may shed new light on this Flores controversy.

For decades, the name of Agapito Flores, of Guiguinto, Bulacan has been associated with the invention of the first fluorescent lamp. This Agapito was said to have worked first as a machine shop apprentice, then relocated to Tondo where he took up a vocational course to become an electrician. Allegedly, Flores was granted patent in France for a fluorescent bulb which the giant General Electric Company bought for millions.

However, no records exist of such transactions involving a Filipino by that name, and there are also major discrepancies with regards to the timeline of his supposed breakthrough invention in lighting.

There were several pre-cursors of the modern-day fluorescent lamp . As early as 1856, German Heinrich Geissler performed several experiments in arc tube type lamps. This was followed in 1895 by Daniel Moore of New Jersey (first commercial arc tube), Peter Cooper Hewitt  ( patented the first low pressure mercury vapor lamp in 1901--the very first prototype of today's modern fluorescent lights), Edmund Germer (improved  the fluorescent lamp in 1927), and George E. Inman (builder of a prototype fluorescent lights fit for public use, 1934)

Obviously then, there was not just one, but many inventors of the fluorescent lamp, at various stages of its development.  Many of the patents granted them were bought by General Electric to control their use and stifle competition.

But did a Filipino really contribute to the invention of fluorescent lighting? Why is there no solid evidence about Agapito Flores that caused his story to be debunked? Yet, National scientist Dr. Benito Vergara of the Philippine Science Heritage Center, recalls that "As far as I could learn, a certain Flores presented the idea of fluorescent light to Manuel Quezon when he became president.”

A 1940 front page news from “Ing Pamitic”  a local Pampanga daily may shed some light on the issue:

FILIPINU YA PALA. Marajil eyu balu qng Filipinu ya pala in mecatuclas (inventor) caring sulung gamitin ñgeni a palaguan dang neon Light at Fluorescent Light. Deting tauli ila deng maputi salang gagamitan dana deng caraclan. Iting Filipinung inventor ya I Dr. Gabriel Del Pilar Flores a maqui dayang capitna Castila at capitna Filipinu, dapot ciudadanu Filipinu.

Ing Dr. Gabriel del Pilar Flores megaral ya king Universidad ning Sorbona, Paris, Francia. Iting Universidad metung ya karing maragul dili queti qñg yatu at metung neman caring cabalitan. Ding dacal a estudiantes a manibat caring mialiuang bansa a magaral Europa lasa carin la pupunta lalung-lalu na ring manibat caring balen ning Sur America.

Iting balita mebasa qñg metung caring bilang na ning Milwaukee Journal, America. Queta pang banua na ning 1932 geua ing amanuan dang marimlang sulu. Dapot nung e quetang 1937 ya micalat a pañgagamit qñg comerciong picabaluan a Neon Light.  Queting mesabing banua, qñg Exposicion Paris, ing bulalag qñg meto sicluban a Torre Eiffel, manibat lalam angga qñg taluctuc na micatcatanan ya caring bayung sulung geua na ning calaji tamu.

(HE IS A FILIPINO. Perhaps you don't know that a Filipino invented the widely-used lights today known as neon light and fluorescent light. The last are the ones that emit white lights used by most. This Filipino inventor is Dr. Gabriel del Pilar Flores, with both Spanish and Filipino blood, but who consider himself Filipino.

Dr. Gabriel del Pilar Flores studied at the University of Sorbonne, Paris, France. This university is one of the biggest and most renown in the world. Most students who study in Europe often enter this university, especially those who come from South American countries.

This news is based on one of the issues of Milwaukee Journal, America. It was in 1932 that this so-called “cool light” was invented. But it was in 1937 that the commercial use of neon lights became widespread. In the said year, at the Paris Exposition, the Eiffel Tower was shown to the whole world, arrayed from  bottom to top, with these new lights invented by our fellowman.)

This short article thus reveals that indeed, there was a Flores involved in the invention of the fluorescent bulb—Not Agapito---but Dr. Gabriel del Pilar Flores.  This Dr. Flores could have been the same Flores that received a French patent, as France was where he went for advanced studies. Or, he could have been a member of the team at General Electric in Britain that helped fine-tune the light bulbs. One can also check on his Sorbonne school records, or retrieve the old issue of Milwaukee Journal to find out more details about his role in the development of the product.

It has been a long time coming for this Filipino to reclaim his rightful place in the pantheon of the world’s greatest inventors. It took a local Pampanga paper to make us see the light.

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