Today, 1 September, marks the first day of a planned multi-year EU phase-out of energy-inefficient light bulbs, including the humble yet wasteful incandescent. In...

light-bulbToday, 1 September, marks the first day of a planned multi-year EU phase-out of energy-inefficient light bulbs, including the humble yet wasteful incandescent.

In honour of the incandescent’s now-underway passing, we thought we’d look at a few of the unique facts and characteristics concerning these century-plus-old lamps:

  • As of 2006, more people were living without electric lighting than did when the incandescent lamp first became widely available in the 1880s, according to a study by the International Energy Agency;
  • Incandescent light bulbs have an energy-to-light efficiency of just 5 per cent, losing most of their energy in the form of heat. In fact, few noteworthy improvements to the incandescent’s efficiency have been made in the past 70-plus years;
  • If every incandescent light bulb in the world were replaced by a compact fluorescent lamp, we could reduce our annual energy consumption by 728 terawatt-hours and cut lighting’s energy footprint by 27 per cent;
  • American Thomas Edison and Englishman Joseph Wilson Swan both obtained patents for the incandescent lamp between 1878 and 1879. While Swan successfully sued Edison over the invention, he later sold the rights to his patent to Edison;
  • Low-energy, efficient passivhauses in places like Scandinavia actually use incandescent light bulbs as a source of heat;
  • The first known incandescent Christmas tree lights were used in 1882;
  • The worldwide light bulb market was — between 1924 and 1939 — controlled by a cartel of lighting companies known as the Phoebus cartel. Blamed for stifling innovation in lighting technology, the cartel was also depicted in fictional form by novelist Thomas Pynchon in his work, Gravity’s Rainbow.


  • Uncle B

    September 1, 2009 #1 Author

    Watch out for the dirty ass-hole shysters and swindlers selling CFLs! I changed over my whole household as the incandescents died. The very first, and most of the Chinese, and some of the Phillips, from Holland are living up to lifetime expectations, or even exceeding them. If you buy U.S. S****** made bulbs, keep the paper-work, receipts and packaging displaying guarantees, you will need them in short order! The bastard-swindlers have even taught the Chinese manufacturers using their American brand names how planned obsolescence and the American psyche works, and are up to their old tricks! The CFLs I got from IKEA stores are still good, Sun brand last and last, but the more recent American branded ones are crap!and we are headed for another screwing by unscrupulous business bastards!


  • Ross

    September 2, 2009 #2 Author

    The first incandescent light was demonstrated by a famous Cornishman, Sir Humphrey Davy, back in 1800, so incandescent light has been around for over two centuries, even though we didn’t get round to commercialising it effectively for nearly a century! (Hat tip to Coolidge for that)


  • Brian Dancer

    September 3, 2009 #3 Author

    These are good facts! The CFL bulbs I have used in my home are great, and they have lasted a long time (over three years so far). I love being able to reduce my impact on the earth, and also get financial benefits of seeing my electricity bill go down. Now, the next thing we need to do is fix refrigerators. Nasty energy hogs, those.


  • lighthouse10

    September 8, 2009 #4 Author

    Nice historical notes..
    Christmas tree lights in 1882 already?

    The ban makes no sense, in my view:
    Cheap simple safe bulbs forcibly replaced by expensive complex mercury-releasing ones

    The energy saving arguments don’t hold up as supposed either onwards

    About the strange and unpublicised EU and industrial politics behind this ban


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