What’s Behind The Bulb That’s Been Shining For A Century?

There’s an incandescent lightbulb in Livermore, California that’s been burning since 1901, with the exception of a few power outages and moves when it was temporary switched off. While its brightness has waned from 60 watts now to 4 watts, it still remains lit and functional for over a hundred years.

Though this is pretty unusual and interesting, especially when we think about the life of the average household incandescent, but what may really remarkable about this bulb is that scientists still haven’t determined just what it is about that bulb’s design that has kept it functional for so long.  

“Mastermind electrician Adolphe A. Chaillet designed the bulb, and his Shelby Electric Company manufactured it. The carbon filament was the defining feature, allowing the bulb to burn longer and at a lower temperature than tungsten-based Edison bulbs. Still, Shelby built the bulb for only a year. The conspiracy-minded say it was planned obsolescence that doomed the Shelby bulb. The more rational-minded say it was because the carbon filament within was too expensive.”

Disassembling the bulb to get closer to an answer is out of the question so long as this marvel of the lighting world is burning. For now, there’s little more we can do other speculate and watch the bulb through a streaming video feed coming directly from a camera at Livermore’s Fire Station 6. 

Why do you think the Shelby bulb has managed to burn this long? 


2 thoughts on “What’s Behind The Bulb That’s Been Shining For A Century?

  1. John says on December 16, 2014 at 1:23 am

    Tracing the origins of this bulb that is known as the Centennial Light does really raise questions as to whether it is a miracle of physics, or a sign that new bulbs are weaker. Its longevity still remains a mystery. While it is generally reported that Thomas Edison “invented the light bulb in 1879, I find it fitting that a long lineage of innovators preceded him. I say that because most of the history we have been taught is inaccurate. You know what they say, the winners write the history.

  2. Amy says on December 16, 2014 at 7:56 am

    This is an interesting mystery, but it sounds like one big promotional charade, if you ask me. How can a bulb remain on when there have been power surges / outages throughout the years? And if they kept it on through some sort of generator or solar powered electrical source, why would they do such a thing unless it was for the purposes of promotions and for keeping this story (or shall we say a mystery) ongoing.

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