Link to Home: Lighting A


Consequences of 20th Century Lighting:

Bracketed information [xxx] does not appear on the label.

[SL30 - Section #5 introduction label]

Step 5: Consequences

"Lighting has finally arrived."
Don Thomas, former Sylvania engineer, 1996

Lighting considerations are now an integral part of the design of houses, offices, factories, and (look around you) museums. Architects and engineers consider not only light levels but also heat generation and long-term costs. And, increasingly, they consider energy conservation. In Thomas's words, they consider the whole building as an energy-saving box.

The question for this exhibition is to what extent can this be considered a new "revolution. In the first section we suggest that Edison's invention (with help from many others) led to two dramatic changes. One was our complete control over interior lighting. The second was a network that brought electricity into homes and offices and made it economical to introduce a wide variety of electrical appliances and fixtures.

For this second section of the exhibit we would like you to consider two additional changes, still in process. One is the control we are achieving over exterior light. The second is the degree to which lighting is contributing to our understanding of the importance of energy conservation.

[GL31 - combined information and credit label]

Exterior Lighting

"Some people want a lot of light and others don't."
Robert Levin, OSRAM SYLVANIA scientist, 1997

High-efficiency lamps have made it practical to convert night into day in shopping malls, football stadiums (C), parking lots, filling stations, barnyards. Not everybody thinks all of this is necessary or desirable (D). But the changes in our lives have been significant.


Mural: "North America from Space," about 1990, from the International Dark-Sky Association

  1. Lighting the Golden Gate Bridge, about 1980, from General Electric Lighting Co.
  2. Lighting a shipping-dock in Richmond, Virginia, 1974, from General Electric Lighting Co.
  3. Lighting Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri, 1972, from General Electric Lighting Co.
  4. Street-lighting the side of an apartment building, about 1990, from the International Dark-Sky Association

Webnote 10-1
[Exterior lighting information]

[GL32 - combined information and credit label]
[G-78 - Graph of efficacies of various light sources over time]

Energy Conservation

"When the well's dry, we know the worth of water."
Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard's Almanac, 1746

As Franklin experimented with static and lightning, he could not have imagined a day when Poor Richard's truism would apply to electricity. We, however, are reminded of the worth of electric power whenever the lights suddenly go out. In 1998 nearly 70 percent of US electricity was generated using nonrenewable fuels, and we've seen what happens to the worth of oil when wells go dry.

The movement to conserve energy has been driven by several factors: the high cost of new electric generating plants, the oil crisis of 1973, and a moral desire to help conserve the world's limited resources. But in the United States, still a land of abundance, the impact of these factors on individuals is often short lived. Perhaps what is needed is a constant reminder.

Might electric light, our most common and obvious use of energy, provide that reminder? As people begin to make conscious choices about changing light bulbs in their homes, could they develop an instinctive understanding of conservation? If so, it may become second nature to weigh long-term energy savings against short-term costs.

Graphics / Photos:

  1. Graph showing the increase in efficacy of various light sources over time
  2. Full cut-off street-lighting fixture, about 1995, from the International Dark-Sky Association
  3. GE advertisement for efficient fluorescent lamps, about 1985
  4. "Federal Energy Legislation Guide," 1995
  5. Kansas Electric Utilities "Building For the Future" program book, 1993

Webnote 10-2
[Energy conservation information]

[L33.1 & .2 - information labels - computer interactives]

Lighting A Revolution on the Web

For additional information on the history and technology of electric lighting, we invite you to look through our website on either of these terminals. We also encourage you to visit this site from your home or school.

For security reasons these two terminals are not active links to the web.

The site address is:

[L34 - Title page in flip-book - light as a symbol]
[G-118: incandescent lamp drawing]

The Electric Lamp as a Symbol

Flip book assembly design courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

[L34.1 flipbook page 2]

The Electric Lamp as a Symbol

Light has traditionally stood for goodness, divinity, warmth, hope, knowledge, and purity. The electric lamp, as a source of light, has enjoyed similar associations. But because electricity is a product of industrial machinery, the lamp can also represent power. These pages show examples of some of the symbolic ways we have used light and the electric lamp. They also show that the two meanings are not always compatible.

Representations of meanings related to light and the light bulb are presented on the following pages.

An expanded version of this appears in "The Incandescent Electric Light," by Bernard Finn, in Bridge to the Future, edited by Margaret Latimer and Brooke Hindle, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 424 (1984), 247-263.

[L34.2 flipbook page 3]
[G101 photo of the Statue of Liberty]

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send them, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me:
I lift my light beside the golden door."

--Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus, 1886; inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty

When the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in 1886, the torch was not designed to be lit. But narrow slots were soon cut in the flame so that light could be projected from inside. In 1916 the body of the statue was lit by 252 searchlights, and inside the flame (which was now made of amber-colored glass), there were 21 more lamps.

[photo] From the Edison Monthly, November 1909

[L34.3 flipbook page 4]
[G100a painted wooden religious plaque]

"Then spake Jesus unto them, saying 'I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.'"
--John 8:12

"Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night;
God said, Let Newton be! and all was light."
--Alexander Pope, epitaph intended for Sir Isaac Newton, 1727

"The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."
--Viscount Grey of Falloden, about 1914

Most of these quotations predate electricity, and "light" stands for goodness or hope or knowledge. But for Viscount Grey, writing when the electric lamp was widespread, it stands both for hope and for the industrialized world and civilization.

[L34.4 flipbook page 5]
[G100b painted wooden religious plaque]

"Let there be light! said Liberty,
And like sunrise from the sea,
Athens arose."
--Percy Bysshe Shelley, Hellas, 1822

"Since God is light . . ."
--John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1667

"The longing for light is the longing for consciousness."
--Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 1961

Buddha is "the Light of Asia."
--Edwin Arnold, 1879

Our Lady of Guadalupé by Suzanna, about 1990, painted wooden plaque

San Antonio by Louise Morris, 1932, painted wooden plaque

[L34.5 flipbook page 6]
[G-103, 104: 19th century interiors]

[G-103 Harper Drawing]

Early cartoonists often used an oil lamp or a fireplace to symbolize the warmth of the home, as with these drawings

from Harper's Magazine, July 1874


[L34.6 flipbook page 7]
[G-99a, 99b recent interior views]

[G-99a drawing from New Yorker]

More recently the electric lamp has been a key element in placing the scene in the living room.

Reproduced with permission from the New Yorker.
September 1977, above and January 1979, below

[G-99b drawing from New Yorker]

[L34.7 flipbook page 8]
[G-102a, 102b: Smithsonian logos]

[G-102a: Smithsonian Torch]
[G-102b: Smithsonian Sunburst]

The Smithsonian Institution has used images of a torch and a sunburst to symbolize its fundamental mission--"the increase and diffusion of knowledge."

[L34.8 flipbook page 9]
[G-84 New York scene]

"Here was my city, flooded with energy and light . . . [a] sudden revelation of power and beauty."
--Lewis Mumford, in his Autobiography, 1982

New York as seen from the Brooklyn Bridge, 1906. The author Lewis Mumford lived in Brooklyn at about this time and would walk across the bridge to Manhattan early in the morning.

[L34.9 flipbook page 10]
[G-106 Guernica postcard]

In Picasso's 1937 painting, a protest of Hitler's bombing of the town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, the light from the oil lamp symbolized hope. But the lightbulb-sun was the eye of an unfeeling, industrialized world.

Post card from the Prado Museum, Madrid

[L34.10 flipbook page 11]
[G-105: light bulb cartoon]

Cartoonists routinely use the light bulb as symbolic of a new idea, especially regarding inventors and inventions. Perhaps this connection was inspired by Edison's fame and his comment about invention--the "1 percent inspiration" became a light bulb.

Original art by Steven Hunnicutt

[L34.11 flipbook page 12]
[G-107, 108 - Science Service captions]

[G -108]

These photos (seen in the case at the entrance to this exhibition) originally appeared in Science Service News, with the caption below.


JUL 16 1931 - An incandescent lamp giving 1,000 times as much light as the ordinary household lamp was shown to King Prajadhipok of Siam when he visited the General Electric Company's research laboratory in Schenectady in July.

Dr. Irving Langmuir, associate director of the laboratory, is holding the lamp.

Photo and original captions from the Science Service Historical Image Collection

[image G-107]


7/41 - Fluorescent tubes light by means of an interior coating of fluorescent powders called phosphors. The glass tubes are filled to the top with the liquid phosphors.

A young lady at work in the Westinghouse Lamp Division, Bloomfield, N.J., here fills a tube. The phosphors drain out, leaving a coating inside.

Photo and original captions from the Science Service Historical Image Collection

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Century Hall
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Century Hall
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