This Lightbulb Has Been Burning for 120 Years

Andrei Tapalaga

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Picture of the famous Centennial Light and the camera that records the lightbulb live (Source: www.centennialbulb.org)

There is a very good saying going around that mentions “things made in the past were made to last” and this lightbulb just proves it. This four-wats Shelby lightbulb has been burning since 1901 in a fire station from Livermore, Califonia.

The history behind the bulb

The history behind the bulb is quite interesting. In 1901, when the bulb was donated to the fire station it was with the intention to help firemen find the lanterns fueled with oil when the oil ran out. At the time, lightbulbs were still in the process of becoming mainstream, even for public services such as fire departments.

As electricity was still in the process of revolutionizing the world, the power grid infrastructures were still under construction and some of them were quite weak meaning that people and especially public services such as the fire department could not rely on a poor electrical connection, especially during an emergency call.

As the bulb was there in case of emergency, it was never shut by the firemen and kept going from generation to generation. In 2010, the lightbulb entered the Guinness World Records under the name “Freak” for being the longest burning bulb in history. The lightbulb had exceeded its life expectancy many decades previous.

The lightbulb hangs on the same electrical wire since 1901, inside the fire department located at 4555 East Street from Livermore, California. Besides Livermore being quite famous for the production of advanced military technology, it has become very famous in the 21st century due to its lightbulb.

How come the light is still burning?

A question that is very frequently asked by most that encounter this story on the internet. In most cases with other such “weird” phenomenons, it is difficult to find proof, therefore you need to take the author's word for it, but not in this case.

The lightbulb has become so popular that there is a 24/7 life feed within the fire department, hence the camera watching it, probably waiting for it to go out but many presume the camera will die before the lightbulb dies out.

On the same website, you can also find different gifs from the videos recorded in previous years such as the one shown here.

However, what is the reason behind the lightbulb still burning to this day?

Many electricians, engineers have looked at the exact model of the lightbulb in order to come to a logical conclusion. The closest theory they could develop was due to the following factors:

  • Low voltage.
  • The absence of an intense source of heat.
  • The lightbulb being perfectly mounted to the electrical circuit.
  • The lightbulb was manufactured perfectly with a great seal.
  • The thickness of the carbon filament (what burns inside the lightbulb).
  • Most importantly, it has not been turned off and on which significantly decreases the lifetime of a lightbulb.

All of these factors play a role in the “never-ending life” of the lightbulb. Now it is seen as a sacred artifact that the firemen protect as they don’t even touch it themselves. As mentioned before, the bulb has long passed its life expectancy as it has been burning for over one million hours.

The last time they allowed someone to touch it was during the Vietnam War. Soldiers before embarking towards Vietnam would come to touch the lightbulb for good luck. The same thing was done by the first few generations of firemen under this light. Upon a devastating fire, before embarking to fight it they would gently pet the bulb for good luck.

Let’s hope that we will see it burning for another 100 years!

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