Lightbulb manufacture pre-war was a lot more interesting than you may believe!
Nobody goes into business to lose money. However, the way some make money is slightly more questionable than others. When lightbulb manufacture technology was still in its infancy, a group called The Phoebus Cartel put together plans in 1924 to severely limit technological growth to maximise profit. At that time, a good quality lightbulb could be expected to last 2400-2500 hours. Phoebus, made up of (amongst others) Osram, Philips, and General Electric had other ideas.
From 1924 until 1939 the Phoebus cartel regulated the lightbulb manufacture around the world. To maximise profit they agreed to artificially limit the lifespan of a lightbulb to 1000 hours. Manufactures around the world sent in bulbs regularly for testing, if their bulbs were found to have a longer lifespan they would have to pay the cartel a hefty fine.
This practice became known as Planned Obsolescence and it permeated into nearly every level of consumer electronics. From a throwaway digital watch with a sealed case preventing battery replacement to Apple releasing a new phone every year when the iPhone is a solid piece of technology that can last years. Selling electric goods with an artificially reduced lifespan to create repeated purchases has become the norm not the exception due to this cartels activities back in the 20’s.
The cartels contracts were written to expire in 1955. Despite legal threats from Phoebus, an independent European group of companies started selling better lightbulbs at lower prices in 1931. This alongside the advent of World War 2 in 1939 caused the Phoebus Cartels operations to come to an end prematurely.
Fast forward to 2015 and lightbulb technology is leading a movement in the opposite direction. LED lightbulbs are now available with an estimated lifespan of 50,000 hours which, if used for an average 4 hours a day, would last 34 years. Upfront the costs are slightly higher than incandescent, CFL and halogen bulbs, however the savings possible in one’s energy bill combined with the longevity of the bulb itself would lead to massive savings. Now if only Apple would release a phone that was built to last longer than 12 months….