They don't make them like that any more.
May 4, 2006 3:27 AM   Subscribe

This light bulb has been burning continuously for 104 years. Watch it live for limitless entertainment!
posted by leapingsheep (60 comments total)
pity it won't light up my room the way a real light bulb does :(
posted by muthecow at 3:42 AM on May 4, 2006

“One by one, over the months, the other bulbs burn out, and are gone. The first few of these hit Byron hard. He’s still a new arrival, still hasn’t accepted his immortality. But on through the burning hours he starts to learn about the transience of others: learns that loving them while they’re here becomes easier, and also more intense—to love as if each design-hour will be the last. Byron soon enough becomes a Permanent Old-Timer. Others can recognize his immortality on sight, but it’ss never discussed except in a general way, when folklore comes flickering in from other parts of the Grid, tales of the Immortals, one in a kabbalist’s study in Lyons who’s supposed to know magic, another in Norway outside a warehouse facing arctic whiteness with a stoicism more southerly bulbs begin strobing faintly just at the thought of. If other Immortals are out there, they remain silent. But it is a silence with much, perhaps, everything, in it.”
posted by misteraitch at 3:46 AM on May 4, 2006

They don't make 'em like they used to...
posted by Jimbob at 3:52 AM on May 4, 2006

I saw this a while ago.

But look:

First installed at the fire department hose cart house in 1901. Then moved to fire station at First and McLeod, then to its present site in 1976 at the fire station, 4550 East Ave., Livermore, California

Surely that means it hasn't actually been burning continously for 104 years?

It may only have been off for ten minutes in that 104 years but still, it's not the same thing.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:55 AM on May 4, 2006

Splendid. Did anyone else harbour a deep and secret wish that the bulb would go out the moment they refreshed the webcam image?
posted by jack_mo at 3:58 AM on May 4, 2006

Bah, that's nothing. There's a bell in the Physics Department of Oxford that's been ringing since 1840. On the same pair of batteries.
posted by edd at 4:12 AM on May 4, 2006

almost continuously - it's been stopped a few times to move it, but it's still on the same batteries
posted by edd at 4:14 AM on May 4, 2006

What webserver has been running the longest continuously without any downtime?
posted by Jimbob at 4:31 AM on May 4, 2006

Also I remember seeing a website not long ago about another very long burning lightbulb - somewhere in a hallway in a university - anyone know where that is? Google fails me.
posted by Jimbob at 4:41 AM on May 4, 2006

Jimbob: If I knew what it was I probably wouldn't link to the poor thing on Metafilter! Might not be the longest running for much longer then....
posted by edd at 4:43 AM on May 4, 2006

There's a bell in the Physics Department of Oxford that's been ringing since 1840. On the same pair of batteries.

Do you suppose they use the same technology for car alarms?
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:17 AM on May 4, 2006

Along the same lines is the Pitch Drop Experiment that's been going since 1930..
posted by unmake at 5:29 AM on May 4, 2006

Visiting: You can visit the bulb during normal office hours Monday through Friday from 8 to 5 p.m. at Fire Station #6, 4550 East Ave., Livermore, California.

I think I'll bring a sandwich a make a day of it.
posted by gfrobe at 5:34 AM on May 4, 2006

Jimbob: Netcraft's Longest Uptimes page. Right now it looks like a trio of Windows servers behind a BSD proxy/load balancer. The BSD box is probably the one with the huge uptime of 1499 days and counting.
posted by zsazsa at 5:43 AM on May 4, 2006

so, is this normal because of the type of bulb, or is it supposed to be some kind of miracle?

is the creation of such a lightbulb prohibitively costly? if not, why don't we use them?
posted by poppo at 6:07 AM on May 4, 2006

Running a lightbulb rated for voltage X on a circuit that is voltage Y, where Y is less than X, will increase the life of the lightbulb significantly.
posted by skwm at 6:09 AM on May 4, 2006

Whole religions have been based on this sort of thing.
posted by Wylie Kyoto at 6:16 AM on May 4, 2006

If I understand correctly (and I haven't done research to back this up), you can get a fairly thick "filament" of carbon to light as long as you have the current required to overcome the resistance of the carbon.

I understand that Edison did some experiments along these lines as he perfected the light bulb.

I don't know the manufacturing techniques but it was my impression last time I looked this up that making carbon filaments was tricky and required manual finetuning.

Also, I'm led to understand (mostly by copy written by folks who want to sell newer and better lights) that the turning on of a light is the most stressful for it. It is also my impression that thicker carbon "filaments" are more durable to the inrush current involved in turning a bulb on.
posted by kalessin at 6:16 AM on May 4, 2006

Will this FPP generate enough bulb views to burn it out?
posted by jimfl at 6:27 AM on May 4, 2006

I think I'll bring a sandwich a make a day of it.

Heck yeah! Road trip!
posted by cavalier at 6:34 AM on May 4, 2006

is the creation of such a lightbulb prohibitively costly? if not, why don't we use them?

If lightbulbs lasted for more than a hundred years, which clearly it's possible that they can: they wouldn't be able to flog you new lightbulbs every few months...
posted by 6am at 6:34 AM on May 4, 2006

Light bulb manufacturers designed "flaws" into light specifically so they WOULD burn out. Otherwise, no repeat business.

Related: isn't Edison's first bulb still burning somewhere? I thought I read that somewhere...
posted by tadellin at 6:48 AM on May 4, 2006

Quick, someone tell Pynchon!
posted by Afroblanco at 7:00 AM on May 4, 2006

See also.
posted by alms at 7:33 AM on May 4, 2006

I've been bitching continuously since about 1981.
posted by dgaicun at 7:38 AM on May 4, 2006

Henceforth, The City will see only by the light of evil!

posted by JHarris at 7:56 AM on May 4, 2006

What I've read of bulb longevity so far on this thread is pretty much all wrong. Here's why these bulbs last so long, it's really quite simple: they are never turned off. Bulbs burn out because you turn them on and they heat up, turn off and they cool. The constant thermal expansion and contraction eventually cracks the glass vacuum seal letting air in to burn out the filament. This problem disappears when you don't turn the bulb off. You can see stories just like this one very often, bulbs lasting 50, 60 years or more, they are always constantly on.

This is true for commercial bulbs too. They are not "made to fail" as many believe. Sure you could probably make a higher quality bulb that would last longer, but that's a whole different effect from what's making these super longs bulbs last. Leaving pretty much any bulb on all the time will do this. And turning it on and off will kill even a well made bulb in a much shorter time span.
posted by Farengast at 8:10 AM on May 4, 2006

That goes against the whole point of lightbulbs!
posted by papercake at 8:15 AM on May 4, 2006

Several people have told me that the everlasting light-bulb was invented (around that time), but obviously the light-bulb companies wanted people to keep buying new ones, so they were taken off the market.
posted by catchmurray at 8:42 AM on May 4, 2006

Several people have told you wrong my friend.
posted by Farengast at 8:46 AM on May 4, 2006

That's only slightly more entertaining than this cam.
posted by Biblio at 8:47 AM on May 4, 2006

farengast, thanks. i kept reading all these comments and going "christ, why doesn't anyone say how it keeps going?!"

i had been told by almost... almost infinitely reliable sources that elf magic had been behind this.
posted by shmegegge at 8:58 AM on May 4, 2006

No problem, shmeg. That's what science is for.
posted by Farengast at 9:05 AM on May 4, 2006

SCIENCE strikes again!
posted by dazed_one at 9:13 AM on May 4, 2006

There are three factors in the longevity of this light bulb. First, it is only generating 4 watts, so it doesn't get very hot. You could hold it in your hand. Those "long life" light bulbs you can buy in the store are just designed not to put out as much light, use less power and stay cooler.

Second, by never turning it off, it avoids thermal stresses from heating and cooling.

But most important is that it runs on DC current instead of AC. An AC filament vibrates back and forth 120 times a second as the current reverses direction because of the interaction between the induced magnetism in the filament and the earth's magnetic field. The filament behaves like a compass needle that rapidly changes polarity, causing it to twist back and forth. This vibration stresses the filament. A DC current does not cause vibration.
posted by JackFlash at 9:17 AM on May 4, 2006

If this was AskMe I would mark JackFlash as best answer.
posted by MattD at 9:23 AM on May 4, 2006

manufacturers designed "flaws" into light

That explains what I see when I look in a mirror.
posted by CynicalKnight at 9:42 AM on May 4, 2006

CynicalKnight writes "manufacturers designed 'flaws' into light

"That explains what I see when I look in a mirror."

Stop blaming innocents bulbs, will you ?
posted by elpapacito at 11:08 AM on May 4, 2006

So if I set up some kind of contraption that blocks the lightbulb from lighting up my room, I can just stop turning it off everynight. This would save a lot of hassle (and daring acts of balance) as my light fixture is close to fourteen feet from the ground.
Thanks for the info.
posted by Pacheco at 11:15 AM on May 4, 2006

JackFlash is not quite right. The AC vs. DC does make a difference, but not NEARLY as much of a difference as the thermal expansion and contraction does. Not even close. The magnetic force on the filament of a 100W bulb would be .4 microNewtons, this is negligible (not even taking into account the fact that the resonance frequency of a 1cm piece of carbon or tungsten would be nowhere near 60 Hz). And the idea of filaments breaking from magnetically induced vibrations is also not consistant with observations. One never sees light bulbs that have been on a while suddenly snuff out. Instead we see them flash and make a crackle noise when we first turn them on, or within 3 or 4 minutes of their being turned on. This is because thermal stress on the seal has let in oxygen causing the filament to combust (hence the flash and smokey residue left on the inside). Just because Edison's bulb runs on DC doesn't mean there aren't 100 other "miraculously long lived" bulbs out there running on AC.
posted by Farengast at 11:19 AM on May 4, 2006

Pacheco, you could just get one of these.
posted by Farengast at 11:20 AM on May 4, 2006

So, the question is:
is it more wasteful to leave my bulb on all the time and waste electricity, or to let my bulbs break and have to replace them, causing gross waste?

Well, I'm guessing I should turn them off, but it's interesting to know that like everything else there's a tradeoff.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:49 AM on May 4, 2006

Awesome, farengast, you rock. However, I do still believe manufacturers release subquality bulbs because they blow out easier. I'm such a cynic it's difficult for me to disabuse the notion.
posted by undule at 12:25 PM on May 4, 2006

What, those guys never had their parents tell them to turn the light off when the leave the room?
posted by Smedleyman at 12:36 PM on May 4, 2006

BlackLeotardFront: LED lighting. Easy on the environment, easy on the eyes, not super-easy on the wallet, but it eventually pays for itself.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:05 PM on May 4, 2006

Undue, never forget that despite the over use of the term and the rhetoric, the free market does actually work very well in places like this. It certainly benefits companys to keep selling you the same broken product over and over again, but if it were so easy to make a super light bulb that never goes out, someone would make a company around that and totally own the market. Particularly someone who makes other products, like GE trashing the light bulb market to hurt Phillips company, or something like that. The simple fact is that nobody makes these super light bulbs because they don't exist.

As for the relative quality of "mortal" light bulbs, I'm sure the parties invovled have poured more money than I care to imagine into devising perfect quality and/or price points to both satisfy skeptical and frugal customers while still being able to claim higer quality than competitors. Marketing is one of those vodoo sciences that works so well and nobody can tell me how or why. Ever been to an Outback steakhouse or Carrabah's? It's really dim in there. Because they did weird tests on this and people eat more when the light is low, even though it seems distractingly low when you are there, it helps them sell desserts. It's weird. But that's how companies work.
posted by Farengast at 1:16 PM on May 4, 2006

Oops, I meant to say, I don't care about the facts, my GUT tells me that it's a big scam. (Colbert reference).
posted by cell divide at 1:30 PM on May 4, 2006

BlackLeotardFront-I'd go CFL (Compact fluorescent). Much less expensive than LEDs, 75% energy savings compared to incandescents. Running a CFL 24 hours a day uses no more electricity than running an incandescent with equivalent light output for 6 hours a day.
posted by rollbiz at 2:57 PM on May 4, 2006

New Englanders: Is Lester Lightbulb still alive?
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:07 PM on May 4, 2006

I feel forced to disagree that " 'long life' light bulbs... use less power and stay cooler." A 75w long life bulb, for example, unless it's mislabeled, must use the same power as a standard 75w bulb since Watts are a unit of power usage. As I understand it, long life bulbs typically use a thicker filament than standards but lengthen it to get the same resistance (I am assuming negligible inductance) and therefore the same power. A thicker filament is stronger, of course, but most of the improvement in life span comes from the fact that the longer thicker filament has greater surface area, and is therefore cooler for a given wattage. A cooler thicker filament is much stronger than a merely thicker one would be. Even more important, in turn, is that a cooler filament evaporates much more slowly. Older bulbs are more likely to burn out than newer only because evaporation has made their filaments (very unevenly) thinner.

Long life bulbs, however, are perceptibly dimmer. That's because the entire emission spectrum of the cooler filament, although it retains (almost) the same shape and all of the power, is shifted toward longer wavelengths, and a lot of it is shifted right out of the visible spectrum into the infrared.
posted by jamjam at 3:46 PM on May 4, 2006

another vote for long-life florescent bulbs if you're wanting to reduce environmental imapct. I kept using the old incandescent ones until they gave up the ghost, and then I replaced them with the new-fangled ones.
posted by raedyn at 4:50 PM on May 4, 2006

jamjam: You're not entirely wrong, but your not entirely correct. Depending on the type of long life lighting in question, the answers are different:

CFLs-Uses less power and stays cooler. See my answer above.

Incandescent "long life"-Usually these are 130v filaments used at 120 line voltage. The thicker filament increases life (roughly double) and decreases power used and light output by about 15%.

Halogen- Produces more lumens per watt, but generates more heat than either fluorescent or incandescent sources.
posted by rollbiz at 7:10 PM on May 4, 2006

I hope I'm not the only one that absolutely can't stand the light from fluorescent bulbs. Bleh!

The only ones that seem to be ok are the full-spectrum ones, but talk about expensive!
posted by AaronRaphael at 7:21 PM on May 4, 2006

Nice, Afroblanca. Nice. You knew exactly what I was thinking.
posted by drpynchon at 7:44 PM on May 4, 2006

"One never sees light bulbs that have been on a while suddenly snuff out. "

Not true. In my studio I have a lamp that is never turned off. And periodically, the bulb just goes "pop!" and burns out (startling the hell out of me in the process) and that's that.

OTOH, the light bulbs that were in the overhead fixture in my studio and in the hallway when we bought the house are still going strong after 10 years despite being turned on and off regularly. They are oddly-sized bulbs with a longer neck than normal.
posted by litlnemo at 7:54 PM on May 4, 2006

(Now that I think about it, the lamp that is "never turned off" does go off/on once a year or so, due to power failure/breaker flip/etc. But that's about it.)
posted by litlnemo at 7:56 PM on May 4, 2006

General (on music cue):
Things were meant to burn out; things were meant to wear out.
Things were meant to break down; try and wear a pair out!
They think they're stocking up when they've got three or four—
Before they turn around they need a dozen more!

Planned obsolescence! There is the essence
Of the American way of making things
(schlocky kind of breaking things!):
Bang, clang, crash, smash, clunk, junk, fizzle,
Conking out according to our master plan—
Go try and beat the system if you can! [...]
Thomas Edison: Enhhhh, I can see it now. A lifetime bulb would upset the entire economy.

General: A lifetime anything would, according to our efficiency experts.

Thomas Edison: Yeah, I'd better drop a line to Bill Sheaffer, tell him to hold off on that lifetime pen...

General: (Chuckles.) Well, you creative people aren't expected to be practical. That's why you need people like us.

Thomas Edison: Uh-huh; uh-huh. Well, eh, you've been a big help to me, ehhh ... What was your last name again, General?

General: Electric.

from Stan Freberg Presents The United States of America, Volume Two: The Middle Years
posted by eritain at 9:18 PM on May 4, 2006

jamjam: A 75w long life bulb, for example, unless it's mislabeled, must use the same power as a standard 75w bulb ...

If you look closely at the package for a long-life bulb, you will see that it is rated for 75W at 130 volts. When operated at normal house voltage of 120 volts it only consumes about 67 watts and runs cooler. You will also see on the label that the long-life bulb only puts out about 900 lumens compared to the normal bulb's 1200 lumens. The long-life will last about twice as long as the normal bulb.

There are other types of long-life bulbs that are more expensive and have special features such as more filament supports, different filament designs, krypton gas, etc, but these are rarer.
posted by JackFlash at 9:28 AM on May 5, 2006

Thank you, JackFlash.
posted by jamjam at 3:50 PM on May 5, 2006

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