Experimental Compact Fluorescent Lamp

Ordinary lamps give good quality light and can be designed for all manner of special tasks. However, they waste a tremendous amount of energy in the form of heat. The steep rise in energy prices during the 1970s spurred a burst of invention aimed at developing lamps that gave more lumens per watt—the lighting equivalent of miles per gallon in cars.
Much of the invention took place in the laboratories of major lighting companies like General Electric and Sylvania. But inventors outside the corporate labs also offered ideas and new devices. One such inventor was Donald Hollister of California. A UCLA graduate with experience in plasma physics, Hollister patented a small fluorescent lamp called the "Litek." The lamp seen here is a hand-made prototype from 1979.
Most fluorescent lamps, large and small, operate by passing an electric current through a gas between two electrodes. The current energizes the gas that in turn radiates ultraviolet (UV) light. The UV is converted to visible light by a coating of phosphors inside the glass envelope of the lamp. Electrodes are responsible for much of the energy lost in a fluorescent lamp and are usually the part of the lamp that fails. Hollister's design was "electrodeless," and used high-frequency radio waves instead of electrodes to energize the gas.
The Litek lamp worked in the laboratory, and Hollister received funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to refine the design. That proved more difficult than expected though. The electronic components available at the time were expensive and generated too much heat. Hollister tried to compensate with the massive heat-dissipation fins set below the bulb, but this added to the cost. Also, as an independent inventor Hollister could not just focus on research. He had to perform administrative tasks that researchers in corporate labs did not, and the project lagged. In the end the Litek did not reach the market, though in the 1990s the major companies all began selling electrodeless fluorescent lamps. These built on the work of several inventors, including Hollister's.
Lamp characteristics: Nickle-plated brass medium-screw base shell with brass retainer and plastic skirt. The base insulator is part of skirt. A metal fitting attaches to the skirt to dissipate heat. Tipped, G-shaped envelope with phosphor coating on inner wall and clear tip.
Object Name
discharge lamp
Date made
Hollister, Donald
Physical Description
plastic (overall material)
metal (overall material)
glass (overall material)
mercury (overall material)
overall: 7 in x 3 1/4 in; 17.78 cm x 8.255 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
See more items in
Work and Industry: Electricity
Industry & Manufacturing
Energy & Power
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center


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