Phoebus Cartel

Posted in GSU photo archive, History, Undogegorized by chamblee54 on December 23, 2014









99pi has a show out, Episode 144: There Is a Light That Never Goes Out. It seems as though a firehouse in Livermore CA has a light bulb that has burned continuously since 1901. It is a big deal, with a BULBCAM shining worldwide.

“The bulb is a genuine heirloom from the dawn of electric illumination, built by one of its pioneers: Adolphe Chaillet…. Chaillet liked to do a theatrical product demo where he’d have a big theatre marquee-like light bulb bank. In it would be one bulb of his own design, and the rest would be bulbs by competing brands. Then, Chaillet would start slowly dialing up the power. One by one, the competitors’ bulbs would all explode. Every time, Chaillet’s would be the last one shining.”

At some point in the show, the Phoebus Cartel was discussed. By amazing coincidence, today is the ninetieth anniversary of planned obsolescence.

“On 23 December 1924, a group of leading international businessmen gathered in Geneva for a meeting that would alter the world for decades to come. Present were top representatives from all the major light bulb manufacturers, including Germany’s Osram, the Netherlands’ Philips, France’s Compagnie des Lampes, and the United States’ General Electric. As revelers hung Christmas lights elsewhere in the city, the group founded the Phoebus cartel, a supervisory body that would carve up the worldwide incandescent light bulb market, with each national and regional zone assigned its own manufacturers and production quotas. It was the first cartel in history to enjoy a truly global reach.”

The idea was to produce a light bulb that did not last as long as previously manufactured items. With a shorter lifespan, the producers could sell more bulbs. Where the pre-Phoebus bulb lasted up to 2000 hours, the new bulbs had a mandated life of 1000 hours.

It is an urban legend. There are light bulbs that never burn out. The government uses them. This bit of high school wisdom has been around for generations.

The screw-type light bulb socket was invented by Thomas Edison, and named E26/E27. It’s use was mandated by the Phoebus Cartel. This standard is still in use today. The light bulb jokes started much later, about the same time the chicken decided to cross the road.

The Phoebus Cartel did not last very long. The major light bulb manufacturers were on opposite sides of World War II. The Cartel had been on shaky ground, both legally, and in the free marketplace. The War was the last straw. The 1924 agreement was nullified in 1940. Pictures are from “The Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library”.









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