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This Light Bulb Has Been Burning for 115 Years!


CRAIG BENZINE: At this
unassuming fire station in Livermore,
California, just outside of San Francisco, something’s
been burning for 115 years. In fact, for much
of the last century, the firefighters have
been actively trying to keep it from going out. Tom Bramell is one of
those firefighters. He agreed to show us
what has come to be called the Centennial Bulb. It’s a light bulb, just a
regular electric light bulb, except that in the
past 115 years, it’s only been turned
off a couple times, making it the longest-burning
light bulb in the world. The longest burning
light-bulb ever? Ever in the world. CRAIG BENZINE: Wow. That’s a big deal. Let’s do a video about it. Today’s compact
fluorescent light bulbs, the ones that you might have
in your house like I do, because I like to see, can
last up to 10,000 hours. Some LED lights can
last up to 50,000 hours. In contrast, incandescent
bulbs, which I don’t currently have any of visual aid, can
last only about 1,200 hours. But the Centennial Bulb has
lasted over 1 million hours. What? Is that the bulb right there? TOM BRAMELL: That’s the bulb. CRAIG BENZINE: Oh wow. It’s just right there. It’s just right there. It’s– TOM BRAMELL: Unassuming. CRAIG BENZINE: Yeah. TOM BRAMELL: 24 hours a day. Quiet. Doesn’t do anything
but just shines. It’s just sitting right there. I imagined there being
some sort of case– It’s unprotected. CRAIG BENZINE: –or shrine. It’s just hanging right there. TOM BRAMELL: Yeah. We talked about
that over the years. It was, how do you
protect this thing? CRAIG BENZINE: Yeah. But it’s done fine on its
own for over a century now. That’s longer than the
lifespan of most people. It’s hard to imagine the
amount of change that’s happened since that
light bulb turned on, two world wars, the
development of the atomic bomb. We landed on the moon. 25 different Zelda games,
the invention of cronut. The internet. Since the Centennial Bulb
was first manufactured, about 3 billion people
have been born and died. The Chicago Cubs even
won the World Series in that time, granted way at
the beginning of the time frame. All right. So then now the question
is, the big question is why? Why is it staying on? Why isn’t it burning out? What is it? You know, we have to
take a guess sometimes that it’s just a
little freak of nature and the development of it. But they did make quality
bulbs at that time. You gotta remember, way back
when this bulb was first made, most people didn’t
even have electricity. They used gas or
kerosene lamps for light. Electric lamps were
a new technology. Light bulbs were a big deal. You could say they were novel. TOM BRAMELL: So they were novel. It was a novel concept. And that’s why it
was celebrated here. In 1901 when it was
donated, it was a big deal, because in the hose cart
stations and whatnot, there was no light. They had to go– at
nighttime if they had a fire, they’d go to the station,
light the lanterns and kerosene lamps, put them
on, get the horses hooked up. And that’s a fire hazard
at the fire station. That was a hazard
at the station, so when they got that dim
light, it lit up the station. You could have a
flood light out there and been comparable at the time. So light bulbs were
a luxury back then, so they were taken care
of a little bit better. But that doesn’t explain
why this light bulb lasted for so long. TOM BRAMELL: It was
manufactured by Shelby Electric. They were one of the major
manufacturers in the day. They had what they called the
greatest lamp in the world. And they really did. Do you know what it’s made
of, what these light bulbs– TOM BRAMELL: Yeah. This is a carbon
filament that they had a baking process that
Shelby had, secret process. They suggested at the
time that the carbon was baked to harden it
as hard as a diamond. Shelby kept in business
’til about 1912. They sold to General Electric. Go figure, right? You make a light bulb that
lasts forever, eventually you’re going to go out of business. But the products that they
were making were made to last. And truly this one really has. And obsolescence is a built-in
function in many, many products that we have today. So what you mean is the
companies plan to have products end? And actually, that did
take place in the ’20s. About 1923 or 1924 there was
a cartel called the Phoebus cartel and that was a
planned obsolescence by a lot of the major companies. OK. So what he’s talking
about sounds crazy. But this really happened. The Phoebus cartel was a group
of light bulb manufacturers that got together
and agreed to shorten the lifespan of their bulbs. So they were like, hey man,
wanna shorten your bulbs? They did this so that they
could sell more light bulbs. They had scientists working
around the clock designing light bulbs that would last
no more than 1,000 hours. If one of these manufacturers
made bulbs that lasted longer, they could face a fine
from the Phoebus cartel. That’s crazy, but it’s real. These kinds of
manufacturing techniques aren’t limited to light bulbs. Everything from cars or
appliances to computers have obsolescence built in. It’s called planned
obsolescence. Although the term had
been used earlier, it was first popularized by
Brooks Stevens in a speech at an advertising
conference in 1954. But he didn’t mean for it
to refer to a deliberate design of an inferior product. He was referring to another kind
of planned obsolescence, where the manufacturer
influences the consumer to make them think that
their product is inferior. We see this all the time,
from cars to phones to TVs to computers to blenders
to coffee grinders to uh– With each new model
or upgrade, we’re encouraged to buy
it because we’re told it’s better than
what we already have. And planned obsolescence isn’t
just bad for our bank accounts. Every phone, car,
computer that we discard will likely end
up in a landfill. But we shouldn’t put all
the blame on manufacturers. Consumers often want newer,
fancy-dancier kind of things. And manufacturers are
just giving into demand. That’s capitalism. And planned obsolescence
isn’t always a bad thing. One of the first
appearances of the idea was in a pamphlet called Ending
the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence. In it, the author argued
that planned obsolescence would stimulate the economy
by increasing consumption. That makes sense. In some ways, it does just that. It keeps businesses in
business and employees employed by always having to build
and supply a new product. It can create jobs
and foster innovation. Well, at least the
Phoebus cartel is gone. And light bulbs seem
to be getting better. They may not last as long
as the Centennial Bulb, but compact
fluorescents and LEDs are a giant leap forward
from the incandescent bulbs of the past, right? Right? TOM BRAMELL: The same thing kind
of applies today if you want to talk about obsolescence. It’s a little
annoying in a sense. But if you think
about it, light bulbs, the LEDs views are
25,000 to 50,000 hours and are supposed to
last 14, 15 years. The average person only stays
in their house seven years and they move. So how many people are
saying, well, this one lasted only nine years. I’m going to go back
to the manufacturer. Nobody’s looking at that. But technically, we could all
build bulbs as good as this and just have
light all the time. You could. We could do that. So why don’t we? That’s the question that’s
another segment for you. Yeah. It’s just so weird
that like we could just have them last longer. Cars could last longer. Like everything could
probably last longer. But– TOM BRAMELL: But you’ve
got that obsolescence. You’ve got to consider that. CRAIG BENZINE: For
the economy, I guess. TOM BRAMELL: For the economy. CRAIG BENZINE: When do
you think it’ll go out? I don’t know that it will
expire in my lifetime. But we know that
everything has an end. CRAIG BENZINE: Yeah. TOM BRAMELL: Sometime. You know, someday it’ll expire. CRAIG BENZINE: Maybe long
after all humans are gone. TOM BRAMELL: Yeah. I mean, who knows? It could last for
another 100 years easily. CRAIG BENZINE: Wow. So what do you think? Is planned obsolescence
good or bad? If it’s bad, how are
we going to keep them light bulb manufacturers
and car manufacturers and all people who
make things employed? If it’s good, what are we
going to do with all the waste? Is there a better way to supply
the population with consumer goods without having
to artificially enforce a lifespan on products? Let us know in the comments. Also, if you want to see the
Centennial Bulb for yourself, there is actually a 24-hour
livestream linked right down there in the doobly-doo. Please consider liking
and subscribing. And thanks to the Kickstarter
and Patreon supporters for making this video possible. You’re great. Planned obsolescence, more
like planned “obs-o-best-ance.” Am I right? Oh, please don’t unsubscribe
after I said that, because I said that. Last week we talked
about gravitational waves. You guys had a lot to
say, so let’s take a look at some of those comments. David Treder pointed out
that we say “gravity waves” several times throughout
the video, which is actually a much different
thing from gravitational waves. Apparently, gravity
waves are actually waves that are created at the
interface between two media, like air and water. So ocean waves are actually
an example of gravity waves. And gravity is just pulling
the waves back down. OK. So that’s what a
gravity wave actually is. Also, actually we followed up
with Daniel Holz about this. And apparently a
lot of physicists say gravity waves as just
kind of like shorthand. So in the context, if you know
what you’re talking about, it’s like– Yeah. We’re basically physicists. We’re basically physicists. We’re actually not physicists. We’re not experts. But we’re just doing
the best we can. We’re just curious young chaps. Paul Cristo questioned
whether the detection of gravitational waves
was valid since they only detected it once. That kind of goes against
the scientific method. Yeah. Well, have I got news for you. Sorry to cut you off. That’s all right. They discovered
a second instance of gravitational waves. They announced it the day
after our video came out. On December 26th
of last year, they discovered another instance
of a black hole collision. And it was similar to
the other discovery, but the black
holes were smaller. But the cool thing is because
the black holes were smaller, they actually– the collision
was detected by LIGO for a longer period of
time, so they were actually able to get more
information, like kind of where the collision
happened in the sky. So that’s pretty cool. And it’s just extra
evidence of black holes and gravitational waves. At the end of the
video Daniel Holz mentioned of the possibility
of detectors in the future being sensitive enough to
detect gravitational waves from the Big Bang. samramdebest
pointed out, though, that wouldn’t it be possible
that the gravitational waves from the Big Bang
have passed us already and that we’re not going
to be able to detect them? Well, the short answer is
that the Big Bang actually didn’t really just
like happen in a place, like a specific location. It’s not like it
happened over there and that’s the center
of the universe and that’s where the
Big Bang happened. What about over there? Possibly. Actually no. No, it didn’t,
because what happened was the Big Bang
happened everywhere, because it is the
entire universe so it was like the entire
universe exploded. And so what we
should expect to find are gravitational waves going
every direction basically constantly. So it’s less like the
collision of two black holes and more like the ocean
waves during a storm where there’s lots of waves and
it’s chaotic and some of them cancel out but there’s always
going to be waves left over. And they’re basically
going to be there forever. So the Big Bang happened there. Right there. This is the exact spot. And it happened here as well. It happened there and there. Yeah. And there. And right there. Next week, we’re
going to revisit one of our favorite
topics, beer once again, and figure out why
American beer tends to have less flavor than other beers. Traditionally, like the major
American beer manufacturers, their beers are somewhat light. Yeah. And why we can thank Jimmy
Carter for the resurgence of microbrews, I guess. Yeah. Thank you, Jimmy Carter. Thank you, Jimmy, Jim, Jimbo. [MUSIC PLAYING]

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