This Light Bulb Has Been Continuously Burning Since 1901

This Light Bulb Has Been Continuously Burning Since 1901

This light bulb in Livermore, California, which hangs from the ceiling of the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department’s Fire Station #6, has never gone off since 1901. The town officials celebrated the bulb’s millionth hour of operation with refreshments, music, and barbecue, on the 27th of June, 2015.

Continuously burning bulb

Livermore is located at an hour’s distance from San Francisco. The fire station which is filled with fire engines and equipment lies on East Avenue. Inside, the small bulb hangs about 20 feet above. This bulb is surrounded by a row of fluorescent shop lights. In addition to fighting fires, on-duty firefighters at the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Station #6 give historical light bulb tours. If an emergency arrives, they politely send the tourists away. Sometimes, however, visitors will wait for the firefighters to return, wanting to examine the bulb some more.

Facts And History Of The Bulb

This historical bulb was manufactured by Shelby Electric Company in Shelby, Ohio in 1898. It was designed by Adolphe A. Chaillet, a French electrical engineer. It contains a carbon filament that’s made according to a secret process that’s unknown even in the present. Although the bulb’s thought to be a 60-watt model, currently, it burns at around 4 watts.

In 1972, Mike Dunstan, a reporter for Livermore Herald and News, confirmed the bulb’s longevity through interviews. Before this, it has been silently burning for 71 years. In 1901, the bulb was probably given to the fire department by Dennis F. Bernal, a local businessman, as a gift. This bulb, which has always been burning, was only turned off on very few occasions.

Continuously burning bulb
The bulb’s current residence.

When Was It Switched Off?

In 1906, the bulb was moved to a different location. It was moved to a fire station on the First Street in Livermore from a firehouse in the Second Street. When the fire station underwent renovations, it was turned off for a week in 1937. In 1976, it was turned off for about 22 minutes when it was moved to the newly built station #6. On May 20, 2013, the bulb went off in the morning. This was caused by a malfunction with the uninterrupted power supply to the bulb. This time, it went off for about 9 hours.

One major reason for the shocking longevity of the bulb is consistency. The bulb has been switched on and off only a few times. As a result, its filament has burned at a steady rate. There’s no need for repeated cooling down and heating back up, and this gives rise to thermal momentum. Joel, a firefighter at the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department, states that Shelby bulbs are hand-blown, giving them a unique shape, size, and filament that’s unachievable during mass production. Planned Obsolescence is the other reason for the bulb’s long-lasting nature.

In 1924, executives from top light bulb manufacturers across the world, such as GE, Philips, Tokyo Electric, Germany’s Osram, France’s Compagnie des Lampes, etc met in Geneva to come up with a plan. They are known as the Phoebus Cartel. They separated the world into market zones that would be individually controlled by them. Also, to keep each company equally dominant, they initiated sales quotas. They came to a decision to halve the averaging operating lives of their light bulbs, from 2000 to 1000 hours.

Continuously burning bulb
Landesarchiv Berlin

If this bulb outlives all of us, don’t be surprised! Check out the article and share your thoughts about this incredible bulb in the comment section!

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