A century of light

Thomas Alva Edison often dubbed the ‘Wizard of Menlow Park’ was one of the most prolific of inventors that the world of science has ever produced. With nearly 1,093 patents in his name, when T

Published: 05th January 2012 12:16 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 06:08 PM   |  A+A-

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Thomas Alva Edison often dubbed the ‘Wizard of Menlow Park’ was one of the most prolific of inventors that the world of science has ever produced. With nearly 1,093 patents in his name, when Thomas Edison was questioned about the secret of his success, he is said to have remarked, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up”.

Of several of Edison’s inventions one of the most significant is the omnipresent little light bulb — what we see every day in all our homes. Edison, however, did not invent the first electric light bulb, but instead invented the first commercially practical incandescent light. Some of these early bulbs had such flaws as an extremely short life, were commercially very expensive and often drew high electricity making them inaccessible for ordinary people. In 1878, when Edison applied the term filament to the element of glowing wire carrying the current, Edison and his team set about the task of creating longer-lasting bulbs.

In Livermore, California there is an interesting little light bulb in the main fire station. A graceful little lady all of about eight inches in circumference, she has outshone and outlived many floodlights around the world. Can you believe this? The Livermore fire station is host to a light bulb which has been making history by burning for more than hundred years! Serving as a night-light over the fire trucks in the station, it has been turned off briefly only on three occasions. The four watt pear shaped bulb was hand-blown like all light bulbs in the olden days. Ripley’s Believe it or Not team was the first to discover that the bulb was manufactured by Shelby Electric Company in the 1900s. The bulb’s date of origin, 1901, has been authenticated by local records, and it has been recognised by both the Guinness Book of World Records and Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Engineers say the bulb has survived due to a combination of the filament thickness and the low wattage. For the people of Livermore, as much as it may be a freak it is also a marvel.

One of the main tourist stops in the city, fire fighters in the station are always happy to show off their prized possession to the visitors. The little light bulb celebrated her hundredth birthday in the year 2001 with the whole town of Livermore coming together to throw the most memorable birthday bash in her honour! With birthday wishes pouring in for her centennial birthday from the White House, the little bulb has received several plaques of appreciation from senators and members of the Congress including many American presidents. As a member of Congress beautifully put it, “This light bulb truly represents the quality our great country was built upon — ingenuity, creativity and dogged determination”. Presently. the light bulb has a new companion — a brand new webcam that watches over the little lady as she continues to burn. May the world’s oldest little light continue to shine for another hundred years to come!

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