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The light they want to hide

Still burning after 600,000 hours of service – what is thought to be Britain’s oldest light bulb is still glowing strong an incredible 69 years after it was first installed.

We first reported on this story in February 2007.  Now British scientists have announced they are searching for a British lightbulb to beat the longest lasting US bulbs –  the light bulb at Livermore fire station in California, which dates back to 1901 is still burning brightly, or the one installed at the Fort Worth Palace theatre on 21 September 1908, which, though now in a museum, is still working.

The phenomenal Swan Edison filament bulb was bought in 1938. And it is a rare exception to the widely-held belief that light bulb manufacturers deliberately design obsolescence into their products, thereby damaging the environment and causing needless expense that benefits only their shareholders.

WIDOW Mo Richardson is the proud owner of the bulb originally bought by the stepfather of Mo’s late husband Jim. When his stepfather died, Jim’s family moved from Redhill, Surrey, to Cowes on the Isle of Wight, and took the bulb with them.

The Royal Society of Chemistry is s now offering a  £500 prize for the oldest bulb

Mo and Jim ‘sfirst had the bulb, fondly called “Old Faithful”  in the downstairs toilet of their three bedroom home. But when they redecorated the house it was moved to an upstairs landing. Jim died nine years ago ‘ but the bulb, which is made of hand-drawn glass, has continued to burn on brightly.

The light bulb industry has therefore provably been able to manufacture an everlasting bulb for the past 70 years, but took it off the market. Ten years ago the industry promised ever lasting LED bulbs made from gallium nitride which consumes only one-fifth as much electricity as a conventional bulb, because it does not waste energy heating up an incandescent filament. And lasts 100 times longer.

The story goes that a man who invented and patented another design of everlasting light bulb, took his invention to a major light bulb manufacturer who waxed lyrical and took an exclusive 20-year licence to manufacture it.
If you haven’t glazed over by now, you may have guessed: more than 20 years later and not one everlasting light bulb was made nor a penny paid to the inventor.
The message here was that, had the inventor taken professional advice, the manufacturer might have parted with a large sum of money (a minimum guaranteed royalty, in IP speak) every year for 20 years to keep the everlasting light bulb from interfering with the ordinary light bulb market.

58-year-old Mo has never considered replacing her own bulb. She said: “I can’t believe it is still going so strongly ‘ it is as good as it has ever been. “The light has always been fairly dim but it still lights up the place perfectly well.

“It also has a real sentimental value for me because it reminds me of my husband Jim. I’ll be devastated when it finally stops working. No one has been able to tell me the reason why it has outlived every other bulb in the house by decades. It is a bit of a miracle I suppose.

“It has even become a bit of a celebrity around here. I took it out the other day to check it and my neighbour came rushing over straight away because she was worried that it had broken.

“What’s the point of changing it when it still works?” Standard light bulbs have an approximate life-span of between 750 and 1,000 hours, while new longlife bulbs can glow for up to 10,000 hours.

But Mo believes her marathon bulb could have been switched on for almost 600,000 hours since it was first screwed in 69 years ago.

The Guinness Book of Records currently has no entry for Britain’s longest-lasting light bulb.

But a spokeswoman for Guinness World Records said the longestburning light bulb in the world is the Livermore Centennial Light Bulb, at a fire station in Livermore, California.

The four-watt, hand-blown bulb was installed in 1901.

The spokeswoman said: “It is left on 24 hours a day in order to provide night illumination of the fire engines.

“There has only been one break in its operation, which was when it was removed from one fire station and fitted in another.”

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