The light bulb conspiracy is a theory that the leading manufacturers of incandescent light bulbs have conspired to keep the lifetime of their bulbs far below their real technological capabilities. This way, they ensure the continuous demand for more bulbs and hence, long-term profit for themselves.
The incandescent light bulbs were invented by British chemist Humphry Davy in 1809, however, it wasn't until Thomas Edison found a way to mass produce them that their commercial use began. In 1924, the leading light bulb manufacturers formed the international Phoebus cartel with the intent to standardize the light bulbs (e.g. the E27 connectors), which was officially disbanded in 1939.
The conspiracy theorists suspect that the primary goal of Phoebus was not to develop international standards but instead, to sink the lifespan of all light bulbs. It was noted that before 1924, said lifetime expectancy was slightly above 2000 hours. To increase the demand and hence, their profit, Phoebus members agreed to halve the life expectancy of all their bulbs by using lower-quality materials and production methods. The life expectancy decline was conducted gradually until the cartel's dissolution to avoid drawing public attention.
Although Phoebus was disbanded in 1939, say the theorists, its influence is still felt in the West. By comparison, Soviet light bulbs and those produced in socialist countries (which didn't adhere to Western standards) have been noted to have a twice as long lifetime. Modern Chinese bulbs have a life expectancy of 5000 hours. Moreover, light bulbs produced in Britain during or immediately after World War II, when the patriotic feelings could take over commercial interests, are still found in use to this day. These "ancient" light bulbs are sought after by manufacturers, who remove them from circulation "for study". The oldest lamp in the world, "Centennial Light", has been in use for 108 years, as of 2010.
Attempts have been made in Europe to circumvent the standards set by Phoebus. In 1975, German watchmaker Dieter Binninger invented a light bulb with life expectancy of 150,000 hours (in other words, 17 years of continuous use!). However, shortly after finally finding a manufacturer for his bulbs in 1991, Binninger died in a plane crash, which was officially regarded as an accident. His patent has since sunken into obscurity and oblivion.
- Phoebus cartel. Wikipedia.
- Livermore's Centennial Light
- Dieter Binninger; Eternal light bulb. German Wikipedia.
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