Innovation Canada A Call To Action : Executive Summary

While the great American inventor Thomas Edison is given credit for “inventing” the light bulb, the story is really one of incremental innovation. In 1810, British chemist Humphry Davy invented the “electric arc,” a precursor to the light bulb. A series of innovations followed and, by the 1860s, the race was on to develop a commercially viable light bulb. Joining this race were two Canadians, Henry Woodward, a medical student in Toronto, and Mathew Evans, a hotel keeper. In 1874, they patented a nitrogen-filled light bulb that lasted longer than others of the era. But they could not get financing for their work, and in 1878 were eclipsed by British inventor Joseph Swan and then in 1879 by Thomas Edison. Realizing the commercial viability of the light bulb, Edison was successful in obtaining major financial backers. He used these funds to continue his experiments, but also to buy out many patents, including those of Swan and of Woodward and Evans.

As we reflected on our consultations held across Canada, during which we heard first-hand of the struggles and successes of Canadian entrepreneurs, we wondered: What if Woodward and Evans had been able to interest investors? What if they had been able to obtain financing to carry on their work and beat out Swan and Edison to be the first to commercialize the light bulb?

This report lays the foundation for a more innovative economy that supports and welcomes research, development and commercialization. It sets out goals and recommendations to take our country forward and help unleash the potential of entrepreneurs from all over Canada. Our hope is that the next Woodwards and Evanses will have all that they need to bring their ideas to the world and leave a lasting impact for future generations.





Industry Canada




Canada. Independent Panel on Federal Support to Research and Development Canada. Industry Canada


January 1, 2011

Media Type:



Social Innovation