Friday, December 30, 2011

Incandescent Light Bulbs, and What Went Before

Why do incandescent light bulbs matter so much?  There are many reasons our government should never ever have ventured to ban these miraculous Edisonian inventions, not least of which is that they embody, in the history of their invention, in the way they changed our world, all that is best about the modern, industrial, fossil-fueled, coal-powered, broad-shouldered, optimistic, brightly-lit, global Age of Western Civilization.

Rita, who lived in my house during WWII, in the 1940's, told me it was the first house her family had ever lived in that had electricity. They had always lived on a farm, and the rural electrification project still had a long way to go before completion. She said her mother hurried to get it connected. When her father came home from work the first day, he took a match to light the kerosene lamp that sat in the center of the table in the kitchen. But her mother said "Wait. Look." and reached up, and pulled the chain that turned on the bare bulb that hung from the ceiling. An incandescent bulb, that lit the entire kitchen. Compared to the old kerosene lamp, it looked like the sun.

If you ever wondered what people did at night before electricity, what it was like to eat supper by lamplight, to study by an oil lamp, these photos were taken by the Works Project Administration (WPA) in about 1939, in Oklahoma, in a setting and house very similar to what our little "Cottage at Pecan Corner" was like at the time.

This is what the world was like before the incandescent light bulb. And what it will be like again without oil, coal, incandescent bulbs, and working power plants.


  1. Yes, children studying by lamplight in a household with so little money that they papered their kitchen with newspaper. That was fairly common, but people understood that knowledge was the path out of poverty.

    I live quite near the coal-mining country of Pennsylvania, and I can tell you that our local coal-fired power plant is having a hard time getting coal deliveries: the coal is being shipped to--you guessed it--China. Meanwhile, our gas and electricity supplier just sent out a notice asking us, their customers, to wear hats indoors during the winter to avoid hypothermia.

  2. That's an outrage, plain and simple. No matter how "globalized" the markets, it is a government's responsibility to assure that we should not have to compete with foreign nations for our own energy resources.

    We need desperately to vote out the lot of them in Washington, and to send their 15,000 staffers home to spend more time with their families.

    Until we can elect people who will put America first in Washington, I would suggest a wood stove for those who can get one. I've been surprised to find that ours gives the best heat - first house in my life I've been warm all winter. Far less expensive to operate, and most of our wood comes from individuals who cut it themselves as part of the way they earn their own living.



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