One Million Hours, and Still Burning

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Back in the 1980s, I read “On the Road with Charles Kuralt,” a delightful, folksy book with short chapters. One chapter told about a lightbulb which had been burning almost continuously since 1901 at a firestation in Livermore, Calif.

I just came across an article about the bulb. It is STILL burning. The bulb was made by the Shelby Electric Company. General Electric bought out Shelby and discontinued their lightbulb. Kind of like how oil and car companies buy out the patents for fuel-efficient technologies, and bury those patents.

cb6 copyToday, the average lightbulb lasts 1000-2000 hours. LED bulbs last up to 50,000 hours. The Shelby lightbulb has been burning for nearly 1 million hours. It has achieved celebrity status. It’s called the Centennial Light, and has its own continuous Bulbcam.

Back in the early days of lightbulbs, companies bragged about the longevity of their bulbs. But in 1924, General Electric and other companies formed the Phoebus Cartel, under the pretense of standardizing lightbulbs. Actually, their goal was “planned obsolescence.” They limited the life expectancy of bulbs to 1000 hours (GE had achieved 1200 hours decades before), and fined companies that exceeded that. They also halted additional research on lightbulbs.

Capitalism, or shall I say greed, at work.

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