Monday, March 7, 2016

The First Efficient Lightbulb

     The light bulb has gone through many incarnations throughout it's lifetime from the early carbon filament Edison Bulbs up to the curly fry CFL bulbs we have today.  Those who know me know that I have no love for either CFL's or LED bulbs for various reasons I don't feel like getting into today.  I'm here to talk about the Mazda bulb, the first energy efficient bulb.
     Edison bulbs were certainly a great leap forward for artificial lighting, but his carbon filament bulbs emitted a pale yellow glow compared to Acetylene gas lights and gas or kerosene lamps fitted with a mantle.  The energy cost for about 15 "watts" light output was 75 watts.  Now I'm not going to get into the who watts vs lumens discussion here.  I'm like you, I grew up with incandescent light bulbs and measuring light output by energy consumption. So for the sake of sanity we will stick with the "watts" unit of measure.  Now, even when Edison invented or perfected the carbon filament lightbulb he theorized that there were better alternatives to carbon filament and one of those items was probably tungsten.  He never worked on the lightbulb again after his original discoveries, I suspect having achieved his goal he was bored with it an moved on.

    This takes us to 1909, when GE filed the patent on the first tungsten filament lightbulb.  It was named Mazda from the ancient Zoroastrian God of Wisdom & Light, Ahura Mazda.  Now here's an interesting quote from early 2000's magazine article:

Tungsten-filament bulbs of the Mazda type were initially more costly than carbon filament bulbs, but used less electricity. Often electrical utilities would trade new lamps for consumers' burned-out bulbs. In at least one case the authority regulating energy rates required the utility to use only tungsten bulbs so as not to inflate customer's energy use.1
Sounds familiar doesn't it?  Kinda like what happened in Baltimore in the early days of curly fry CFL bulbs, and fry they did.  I got a huge rebate to buy them and replace incandecent bulbs in my house and for what?  A harsh glare, a slight reduction on my energy bill and half the CFL's fried in the first 2 months.  What a waste! At least the old Mazda bulbs were built to last probably due to being made in the USA rather than China or wherever.

     The tungsten filament Mazda bulb slowly replaced the carbon filament bulb over time and the shape changed to the familiar bulb shape we know today.  A Mazda bulb could produce double the light output of a carbon filament bulb for around 40 watts electrical use, almost half of that of a carbon filament bulb.  The Squirrel Cage design as seen in the ad was modified to the tight coil filament by the mid 1920's which was a savings of Tungsten over the older bulbs.  The Mazda trademark finally went away in 1945 in the states, but was used in foreign countries until at least the late 80's.  Now we are faced with the next great leap forward in lighting, but I fear it's a leap into a chasm as the new CFL bulbs are poisonous and LED bulbs are not nearly as long lasting as marketed. I'd say we have a long way to go before we find a worthy successor the the valiant lightbulb.

1) Carl Sulzberger A Bright and Profitable Idea in "IEEE Power&Energy Magazine, May/June 2006, pages 70-78


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