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Edison’s dim bulb

Edison’s dim bulb

By: Tom Purcell

If only Thomas Edison had invented a different light bulb.
I speak of his incandescent bulb, one of the greatest inventions of the last 130 years. By sending an electrical current through a thin filament, which is sealed in a gas inside a bulb, light is produced.
Several inventors worked on the concept until Edison produced a carbonized-bamboo filament that could last up to 1,200 hours. Thanks to him, the cheap, long-lasting bulb was born.
Edison’s idea has been so wildly successful, we’ve taken it for granted for years. Because incandescent bulbs are so cheap and plentiful, virtually every home in America has dozens of them. You walk into a room, flip a switch and, presto, let there be light!
But some folks aren’t happy with Edison’s bulb anymore.
According to The Wall Street Journal, our Congress passed, and our president signed into law, an energy bill that will kill off the old bulb within 12 years. The bill sets energy-efficiency standards that the incandescent bulbs cannot meet.
Why would our government kill off one of the most effective inventions in history?
As electricity passes through the filament in the old bulb, you see, the filament gets white hot and produces light. That takes a lot of electricity. The electricity comes from the electric company, which burns coal to produce it. Coal burning emits nasty greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The Edison bulb, the argument goes, is contributing to global warming.
It’s better that we use more-efficient fluorescent bulbs, halogens or LEDs, we’re told. The small fluorescent bulbs are french-fry-looking things that are filled with mercury vapor. When electricity passes through the vapor, ultraviolet light is produced.
The fluorescent bulb has its good points. It uses a fourth as much energy as the old bulb. It lasts longer, too. Even though it costs up to six times as much, it saves dough in the long run.
But there’s a downside. The fluorescent bulb has an odd flicker and glow. It lacks the warmth and charm of its incandescent predecessor.
According to the Telegraph, the little buzzing gases inside the new bulb trigger migraines in some people. Folks with epilepsy and lupus may also be adversely affected.
Plus mercury is a poison. If the bulb breaks, mercury fumes will fill your house — not good for a fellow who throws parties in which lamps are frequently knocked over.
I’m all for new inventions replacing old ones. Eventually one of the new bulb technologies will be superior to Edison’s concept and people will flock to it.
But the government doesn’t want us to wait that long. That’s because a perfect storm — a coalition of environmentalists, manufacturers and politicians — came together to seal our light-bulb fate forever.
Environmentalists are aglow that the new bulbs will emit much less greenhouse gas into the environment.
Manufacturers are even happier. When the old 50-cent bulb is gone, consumers will have to pay up to $3 to buy the fluorescent one. The higher-cost bulb, says the Journal, will conceivably drive higher profits.
Politicians are the happiest of all. Since much of the public is convinced man is causing the Earth to melt, folks will praise them for sending the old bulb to its grave.
But while much of America is jumping for joy, I’ve got my own bone to pick with Edison.
Sure, I know that the ingenious machinery he and others invented dramatically improved the quality of life for mankind.
I know those massive machines drove industrialization, which was the backbone of the incredible wealth and productivity we enjoy today.
I know that the Edison bulb was so brilliant and effective that it is STILL the preferred bulb today — and that the only reason we’ll stop using it is because the government is forcing us to.
I just wish Edison had been as progressive a thinker as so many folks fancy themselves to be today. If only he’d anticipated the environmental backlash his inventions would one day cause. If only, in the late 1870’s, he’d invented an energy-efficient fluorescent bulb instead of the energy-wasting incandescent one.
Some bright idea his light bulb turned out to be.

Tom Purcell is a humor columnist nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons. For comments to Tom, please email him at
Published in The Messenger 1.24.08