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Lights We Love: The Centennial Light

The world’s longest lasting light bulb, the Centennial Light has been illuminating the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department for over 114 years. Manufactured in Shelby, Ohio by the Shelby Electric Company in the late 1890s, the Centennial Light has been recognized by General Electric, the Guinness Book of World Records, Myth Busters, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, countless news venues, and multitudinous conspiracy theorists citing it as evidence of planned obsolescence in later bulbs.

An Interminable Influence

The bulb’s story began with its 1901 donation to the volunteer fire department by the Livermore Power and Light Company, where it was left burning 24-hours a day in an effort to help volunteer find their way in the dark. It has rarely been turned off, save for power failures and for about a week in the 1930s, when President Roosevelts Works Progress Administration workers remodeled the firehouse.

A Burning Question

Many have questioned the longevity of the 4-watt, hand-blown glass bulb, prompting extensive investigations into its seemingly everlasting construction. What makes the bulb different? Other vintage bulbs manufactured by Shelby have been studied looking to unlock the secrets to of the bulb’s longevity, thus far discovering a filament eight times thicker than today’s bulbs, and the bulbs carbon construction, which better conducts electricity as the bulb heats. Other observations include the Centennial Light’s low wattage, and the fact that the bulb is left on 24 hours a day, possibly a determining factor, as bulbs most often break when turned on or off.

Looking to the Future

To date, no one knows with certainty why the Centennial Light has lasted so long. Its extraordinary lifespan and rich history have inspired the purchase of many replicas, and even a movie. Plans are now underway by the city of Livermore to create a new display underneath its lasting light, as well as revamp the bulb’s website, which offers a 24/7 view of the light via “Bulbcam”.

Honoring the past

Let us stop and pay homage to the amazing history of the Centennial Light, and the incredible power source that has made this milestone possible: electricity. Their interwoven story has changed our history and life as we know it, and still plays a dominant role in our daily, technologically-driven lives today.

Is the lighting or electrical in your home less inspiringly behind-the-times than the Centennial Light? Mr. Electric® can show you the way to a brighter future. Contact us today.