Modular compact fluorescent lamp

In the late 1970s and early '80s many new, energy efficient lamps moved from laboratories onto store shelves. Some succeeded in the market and are still sold today while others failed and disappeared. In the case of this lamp, the Econ-Nova compact fluorescent from Westinghouse, disappearance followed success.
Many problems—some technical, some economic—had to be solved in order for a practical compact fluorescent lamp to succeed. A technical problem stemmed from the fact that energy efficiency in fluorescent lamps depends in part on the distance the electric current travels between the two electrodes, called the arc path. A long arc path is more efficient than a short arc path. Westinghouse engineers decided to fold a glass tube three times, allowing them to use an arc path about 18 inches long in a lamp less than 8 inches tall.
An economic problem stemmed from the expense of the electronics and the ballast needed to operate the lamp. They lasted quite a long time, longer than the electrodes in the tube, but were a major portion of the price of the whole lamp. Throwing away perfectly good electronics just because an electrode failed made little sense. So the Westinghouse engineers designed their lamp to be modular. The fluorescent tube, what they called the hook, could be easily removed and replaced when it failed. New tubes were much less expensive than the whole lamp, so consumers saved money.
Introduced in 1981 the Econ-Nova lamp seemed to be off to a good start when, two years later, the Dutch electrical company Philips purchased the Westinghouse Lamp Division. Philips had been first to the market, introducing two different types of compact fluorescent lamps in 1981. Their "SL" lamp was not modular and differed in other details but was somewhat similar to the Econ-Nova. In order to avoid competing with itself, the company discontinued the Econ-Nova.
Lamp characteristics: A modular compact fluorescent lamp with three components: a light tube, a capsule containing the ballast and starting mechanisms, and a cover. Capsule: medium-screw base shell with brass contact mounted on a plastic skirt. The base insulator is part of skirt. The skirt houses a neon-glow starter and supports a magnetic ballast and a receptacle for a fluorescent tube. Ventilation slots allow heat to escape. A rubber O-ring is on the ballast to keep the tube from striking the ballast if the lamp is bumped. Light tube: a glass tube with three bends mounted on a plastic 4-pin connector. The connector attaches to the capsule with a screw. The tube contains tqo tungsten electrodes and is coated with a phosphor. Cover: a plastic dome that snaps onto the capsule. Ventilation holes at the top allow heat to escape.
Date made
ca 1981
date made
ca. 1981
Westinghouse Electric Corporation. Lamp Division
Physical Description
plastic (overall material)
glass (overall material)
mercury (overall material)
metal (overall material)
overall: 7 3/4 in x 3 1/2 in; 19.685 cm x 8.89 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
from Philips Lighting Co.
See more items in
Work and Industry: Electricity
Energy & Power
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center


Add a comment about this object