The Centennial Light Bulb

According to research by the National Association of Homebuilders, the average appliance lasts less than 15 years, although some have been around for much longer. As per the Guinness World Records, the Centennial Light Bulb in Livermore, California, was installed in 1901 and is the world's longest-burning light bulb. The Shelby Electric Company in Ohio created the hand-blown bulb in the late 1890s, and it was handed to the Livermore Fire Department in 1901. It was originally a 30-watt light, but since 2010, it has been running at about 4 watts. According to Guinness, it has been left on 24 hours a day at Fire Station #6 "to provide night illumination to the fire engines." It has rarely been switched off since its installation in 1901, has outlived every firefighter of the time, and has been named the ‘Eternal Light’ by General Electric engineers and scientists all around the world. The origins of the bulb, termed the Centennial Light, raises the question of whether it is a physics marvel or a hint that modern bulbs are weaker in make and design. Its long-term viability is still a mystery. 

Historical Perspective

In 1881, Thomas Edison introduced the first commercial bulb, which lasted 1,500 hours, and soon after bulb manufacturers boasted of 2,500-hour bulbs. However, in 1924, the major bulb makers in the United States and Europe secretly created a cartel to limit light life to 1,000 hours. By the 1940s, 1,000-hour bulbs had established themselves as the industry norm. The cartel was eventually revealed, and in 1953, General Electric and other industry leaders were prohibited from reducing the life duration of light bulbs. The inventor of the better filament, Adolphe A. Chaillet of the Shelby Electric Company, was granted a patent in 1902, but no information about the filament's structure or composition was published. Thomas Edison has always been credited with inventing the light bulb. Many inventors, on the other hand, have contributed to the advancement of incandescent light bulb technology. Although there is no doubt that Edison, as well as his successor business General Electric, invented the first successful mass-produced incandescent bulb.

In 1972, a fire marshal in Livermore, California, reported an unusual occurrence to the local paper: a naked Shelby light bulb hanging from the ceiling of his station had been glowing continuously for decades. The bulb had been a legend at the firehouse for years, but no one knew how long it had been burning or where it had come from. Mike Dunstan, a young reporter for the Tri-Valley Herald, started looking into it and what he discovered was simply incredible. Dunstan discovered the bulb's origins after combing through dozens of oral and written documented histories. It was purchased by Dennis Bernal of the Livermore Power and Water Co. (the city's first power company) sometime in the late 1890s, then donated to the city's fire department in 1901, when Bernal sold the company. Because only 3% of American houses had electricity at the time, the Shelby bulb was in high demand.

The ‘Centennial Light’ was moved numerous times during its early life: it hung in a hose cart for a few months, then was secured in Livermore's fire station after a brief spell in a garage and City Hall. “It was left on 24 hours a day to break up the darkness so the volunteers could find their way,” then-Fire Chief Jack Baird told Dustan. “It’s part of another era in the city’s past and it’s served its purpose well.” Despite the fact that it was switched off for "approximately a week when President Roosevelt's WPA team refurbished the firehouse back in the 1930s," Guinness World Records determined that the hand-blown 30-watt bulb was "the oldest glowing light in the world" at 71 years old (presently 121 years old). Following that, it received a flurry of headlines, including appearances on Ripley's Believe It or Not and various news networks. A dedicated webcam allowed the general public to witness the bulb had reportedly burned out on the evening of May 20, 2013. The next morning, an electrician was dispatched to confirm the situation. It was determined that the light had not burned out when the dedicated power supply was bypassed with an extension cable. A problem with the power supply was detected. Before the sun was finally restored, it had been out for about 9 hours and 45 minutes.


Closest Competitors 

"On September 21, 1908, a stagehand named Barry Burke at the Byers Opera House, Fort Worth, Texas screwed in a new light bulb and it was still burning," according to the Guinness Book of World Records. The Palace Theater was renamed, and the light was known as the Palace Bulb ever since. It's presently on display at the Stockyards Museum, and it'll be 100 years old in September 2008. A website is currently being developed for the Palace Bulb. The third is simply known as ‘the bulb,’ and it burns in a firehouse in Mangum, Oklahoma, just like the centennial bulb. It has been in use since roughly 1926, does not require any specific power conversions, and is turned on and off as needed. A light in a lavatory at Martin & Newby Electrical Shop in Ipswich, England, dated from 1930 and burned out in January 2001 was the fourth closest in line. The City of Livermore and the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department plan to keep the Centennial Light Bulb lit as long as possible. They are yet to decide on what action will be taken if and when it burns out. A museum-quality display of historic bulbs, firefighter memorabilia, and a looping video about the Bulb are up and running for now, attracting many out of curiosity, intrigue, and a passion to dwell further on the existing pieces of evidence of the origins of technology.