The Centennial Light Bulb has been shining bright for over 100 years now. How come it seems like bulbs today burn out in only a few months?

In 1901 what is now known as the Centennial Light Bulb was donated to the Livermore, California, fire department and has been burning almost continuously ever since – one million hours later. With the exception of the occasional power outage and two fire station relocations, the 30 to 60 watt bulb (the exact number is up for debate) manufactured in Ohio by the Shelby Electric Company in the late 1890s has been doing its job without fail.

Although the bulb is now down to four watts, it has become an oddity from the past that now warrants its own 24-hour webcam and has earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest running light bulb. Although researchers would love to be able to get a closer look at the innards and design of the Centennial Bulb to see exactly why it is still running, that will only be possible once the bulb has shone its last beam of light. What is known is this: you’ll never see another bulb like it. Conspiracy theory lovers rejoice – on December 23, 1924, a group consisting of the major light bulb producers of the time (including General Electric) got together and decided it would be in their best interest to make bulbs that didn’t last so long.

What became known as the Phoebus cartel, known in the bulb industry for its strong-arm tactics and fining members who made products that were of too high a quality, only lasted into the 1930s. However, the cartel’s basic groundwork of manufacturing light bulbs that lasted 1,000 hours or less is still an unofficial guideline today.

Story by Jay Moon


Sources