Watt, Why & How e-Newsletter

A Lighting Legend: The Centennial Bulb

Centennial light bulbThe latest LED lights have a rated life of up to 100,000 hours. That's impressive, but they've got nothing on one tiny bulb hanging from the ceiling at a fire station in Livermore, Calif. In June 2015, the 'Centennial Bulb' passed one million hours of operation, making it the longest running light bulb in existence, according to the Guinness Book of World Records

The Centennial Bulb has been burning since 1901. It's certainly long outlived its maker, the Shelby Electric Company. The bulb manufacturing firm was formed in Shelby, Ohio in 1897 and operated until 1914, when it was purchased by General Electric. The bulb has also outlasted four web cameras installed to monitor it 24 hours a day. 

At 117 years old and counting, the Centennial Bulb has been around the block a few times, literally. Originally installed at a firehouse on L St. in Livermore, it had been relocated twice by 1906. In 1976, it was moved to its present site at Fire Station #6 on East Ave. During its last move, the bulb received a fire and police escort. 

Why has the bulb lasted so long? "No one knows for sure." said Tom Bramell, Chairman of the Centennial Light Bulb Committee (yes, this bulb has its own committee). "After being studied by scientists from Livermore Laboratories and in Annapolis it was suggested that it may be a freak bulb or a perfect vacuum with a low energy output that keeps it burning."  

The bulb is never turned off, but on one evening in 2013, it was out for more than nine hours. "I was trying to think of something profound to say to the media regarding the light's outage," said Bramell, "then I realized it was the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) we installed for backup power." An extension cord was used to bypass the UPS, restoring power to the light. How ironic. The battery backup fails while the old bulb still burns on.

Old as it is, the Centennial Bulb does have a few long-lasting competitors. The 'Palace Bulb'—currently located at the Stockyards Museum in Fort Worth, Texas—has been burning since 1908. It's listed by Guinness as the second longest operating light bulb. Another bulb has been brightening a fire station in Mangum, Okla. since 1927.

The Centennial Bulb continues to be a worldwide attraction. In addition to daily public visits, the light has been featured by major TV networks and documented on the series Myth Busters.

Visit the live bulb camera at http://www.centennialbulb.org. 

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