Do you Know How Long Can a LightBulb Last?

world's longest lasting light bulb

The popularity of incandescent bulbs as the go-to lighting solutions has waned considerably as new technology produced the more widely used light emitting diode (LED) bulbs. One reason for the phase-out of incandescent bulbs is their short operating life compared to LEDs. A bulb of this type has a lifespan of about 1,000 to 2,000 hours. In contrast, LED lights can keep burning for 25,000 to 50,000 hours. That’s quite a margin. 

However, some old-fashioned bulbs will top LEDs’ 50,000 hours of operating life many times over. These globes have remained lit, some for over a century. This proves that sometimes, old stuff is made way better than modern throwaway gadgets and devices. 

For example, Livermore’s Centennial Light Bulb, considered the longest burning light bulb in the world, has been shining for almost 120 years. But the Livermore Centennial Light Bulb isn’t the only shining example of how olden-day craftsmanship can lead to equipment that lasts far longer than its expected lifespan. Other bulbs have illuminated the world with their burning light for several decades. 

1. Livermore’s Centennial Light Bulb

Hanging from the ceiling of Fire Station # 6 in Livermore, California, is what has become known as the longest burning light bulb in the world. The fire station personnel claim it has rarely been turned off and remains in operation 24 hours a day since it was lit.  

Also called the Livermore Centennial Light, this world’s longest burning bulb was designed by Adolphe Chaillet and was produced by the Shelby Electric Company in the late 1890s. This enduring masterwork went into the Guinness World Records as the longest burning light bulb in the world. General Electric also made the same proclamation. 

The bulb still resides in fire station #6 in Livermore, California, and continues to burn, although its former 30-watt output has dimmed to a meager four watts.  

2. The Eternal Light from Texas

Next to the Livermore Centennial Light comes the Eternal Light from Texas, also cited by the Guinness World Records for remaining lit way over its specifications. If the Livermore Centennial Light hung in a fire station, the Eternal light dangled over the stage door of the Byers Opera House on 7th Street in Fort Worth, Texas. It has been turned off only once (and by accident at that!) since it was lit on September 21, 1908.  

The Byers Opera House no longer exists. It became a movie theater in 1920 and got torn down in 1977. The bulb now stays inside a glass case display at the Stockyards Museum, plugged in and still burning. 

3. Gasnick Supply’s Back Door Light – New York

The third longest burning light bulb in the world was installed atop the back door of Gasnick Supply, a hardware store. It was screwed into its socket and began operating in 1912, according to the hardware store owner John Gasnick.  

John Gasnick tried to have his light declared as the longest burning lightbulb, discrediting the Livermore Centennial Light several times. He even reached out to the founder of the Guinness World Records, claiming that the Livermore Light was a fraud. 

No one knows what happened to the back door light. Gasnick, unhappy with the idea that he was not getting the recognition he deserved, sold his business and disappeared. Meanwhile, the hardware store, and the whole block on which it stood, were razed in 2003. Nobody can ascertain if the bulb was destroyed along with the store or if Gasnick took it with him.

4. The Mangum Light Bulb – Oklahoma

This is another bulb that lit a fire station and made its way into the Guinness World Records. Located in Mangum, Oklahoma, the Mangum Light Bulb began burning in the late 1920s and remained lit for 81 years. The bulb doesn’t have any switch. It was hardwired to the wall, and the only way to turn it off was to unscrew it.  

The maker of the Mangum Light Bulb was unknown. On December 13, 2019, its light was finally extinguished. 

5. Martin & Newby’s Light Bulb – Ipswich

Who would have thought that an electrical shop’s washroom would have some claim to fame by having the fifth-longest burning light bulb in the world? That happened with the Martin & Newby’s Light Bulb in Ipswich, which lit the staff washroom for about 70 years.  

The shape and design of the bulb indicate that it was made in the 1930s. Unlike the Livermore Centennial Light, this bulb from Martin & Newby’s Electrical Shop never attracted much attention. It finally burned out in 2001. 

How Can Light Bulbs Last Over a Century?

We’ve gotten so used to electronics that last only a few years (if you’re lucky) that light bulbs remaining lit for over a century can be a marvel. How did they manage that feat, given that incandescent bulbs are known to have limited lifespans? Experts think that those bulbs kept on burning because of the following reasons. 

They were kept lit

The wear and tear bulbs experience when being turned on and off often leads to burnouts in incandescent bulbs. The on and off operation heats and then cools the bulb’s filament causing it to expand and contract. Expanding and contracting cause micro-stress cracks to form. Each time the bulb is turned on and off, the cracks grow larger until the filament finally breaks off. 

The longest burning bulbs remained shining because they were seldom switched off. In some instances, they stopped operation only once or twice in their lifetime.  

The materials used played a role

The Livermore Centennial Light, for example, is a hand-blown bulb with a patented coiled carbon filament. That’s a technological advancement during the bulb’s time that contributed to its ultra-prolonged lifespan. 

Meanwhile, the filament in the Mangum Light Bulb was so thick it looked like a baling wire. That helped it withstand the test of time. 

The Phoebus Cartel

In Geneva, a group of light and electronic manufacturers formed the Phoebus Cartel. This event happened on January 15, 1925. The cartel’s purpose? Lower the lifespan of light bulbs from 2,500 to only 1,000 hours. This is designed to reduce operational costs and increase sales without fear of competition. The cartel worked to standardize how long bulbs lasted. They tested the products and imposed fines on manufacturers whose light bulbs lasted over 1,000 hours.  

The companies that founded the Phoebus Cartel included Philips, Osram, Associated Electrical Industries, Tungsram, Compagnie des Lampes, International General Electric, and the GE Overseas Group.  Although the cartel was supposed to operate for 30 years (from 1925 to 1955), World War II ended its existence in 1939. 

Planned Obsolescence: An Enduring Legacy

Planned obsolescence is a business strategy wherein the obsolescence, or the process of becoming obsolete or unusable, is built into the product by the manufacturer. Starting way back in the 1920s, when the working life of lightbulbs was brought down from 2,500 hours to 1,000 hours, its purpose was to make consumers buy new products. 

The legacy of the Phoebus Cartel is why electronics, devices, and equipment stop working after several years. Planned obsolescence proves that it’s not just nostalgia that drives people to say “they don’t make them like they used to.” 


Are old light bulbs worth anything?

They may have stopped working and don’t seem worth anything, but old light bulbs still have some value. Incandescent bulbs have a small amount of tungsten carbide. This is an alloy made up of tungsten and carbon. The alloy fetches around $14 a pound. However, tungsten carbide can only be found in incandescent bulbs with filaments that haven’t burned out.  

What are the disadvantages of planned obsolescence?

Planned obsolescence aims to bolster demand by creating products that break down or become outdated after a specified period. That’s why electronics and even furniture don’t last as long as they used to. This business strategy impacts the consumers’ wallets as they’ll need to keep buying replacements. It also hurts the environment because the discarded products end up in landfills. Moreover, it leads to increases in the consumption of natural resources. 

How long can a light bulb stay on safely?

The answer depends on the kind of bulb you plan to leave on. Some bulb types, such as incandescent lights, become so hot that they can become fire hazards when you keep them burning 24/7. LEDs, on the other hand, don’t emit heat, so keeping them lit continuously won’t be a problem as far as starting a fire is concerned. However, no matter what bulb type you use, their operation adds to your electricity bill. 

Is the centennial light still burning in 2020?

Yes, Livermore’s Centennial Light Bulb continued to burn in 2020. The light the bulb emits isn’t as strong as it used to be, and its color has changed due to the many hours of operation, but it’s still lit, and its glow gently lights the fire trucks in Fire Station #6, the bulbs’ permanent home. 

Final Words

They really don’t make them like they used to. This thought applies not just to light bulbs but to other equipment, devices, and even household fixtures and furniture. Those bulbs that kept burning for over a century prove that sometimes older is better.  

Livermore’s Centennial Light is not just the longest burning light bulb; it also shows what good craftsmanship can accomplish. Providing light for over a century is a significant feat worth celebrating indeed. 

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