Edison's Light Bulb
by David Porter, Associated Press
EDISON, N.J. -- One of the inventions that put this central New Jersey town on the map could go the way of the typewriter and the horse and buggy if some lawmakers have their way.
The incandescent light bulb, perfected for mass use by Thomas A. Edison in the late 19th century, is being supplanted by fluorescent lighting that is more efficient and longer lasting.
Last month, California Assemblyman Lloyd Levine announced he would propose a bill to ban the use of incandescent bulbs in his state.
And Thursday, New Jersey Assemblyman Larry Chatzidakis introduced a bill that calls for the state to switch to fluorescent lighting in government buildings over the next three years.
"The light bulb was invented a long time ago and a lot of things have changed since then," said Chatzidakis, a Democrat from Burlington. "I obviously respect the memory of Thomas Edison, but what we're looking at here is using less energy."
Many states encourage their residents to replace their incandescent bulbs through a federal program supported by the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.
In New Jersey, the state where Edison acquired more than 400 patents for innovations such as the phonograph and electric railroad car, utility is trumping nostalgia. The state recommends switching to compact fluorescent lamps as part of its Clean Energy Program.
More than 1.2 million of the lamps and fixtures were distributed in 2005 through the program, according to the state Board of Public Utilities.
If the bulb's demise is on the horizon, Jack Stanley isn't ready to flip the "off" switch just yet. "It's a convenient target. It's easy to see and easy to critique," said Stanley, curator of a museum that celebrates Edison's inventions in the town that has borne his name since the 1950s. "But think about the benefits and compare them to the drawbacks and your argument is already made."
Edison perfected the process of making the long-burning filaments used inside incandescent light bulbs so they could be mass produced.
Fluorescents, which create light by heating gases inside a glass tube, were developed in the early 20th century and sold publicly by the 1940s. They are generally considered to use more than 50 percent less energy and last several times longer than incandescent bulbs. However, the mercury vapor inside fluorescents can damage the environment if the bulbs are broken, leading some states to require businesses that use large quantities of fluorescent lights to recycle them.
Even Stanley acknowledges that, more than 125 years after its invention, the day may be approaching when the incandescent bulb takes its place alongside Edison's original phonograph in the pantheon of revolutionary-but-outdated inventions.
"It's a 19th-century invention that was perfected in the 20th century," he said. "That's part of the evolution of all inventions."
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