Beginning in 1938 with the commercial success of General Electric’s fluorescent tube, the incandescent bulb had its first potentially serious competitor. In the years to follow, fluorescent lighting made serious inroads in commercial and industrial applications. However, the use of fluorescent lighting in residences was seldom seen in areas outside of basements, garages, workshops, or maybe an office, or laundry or utility room. Even with the eventual advent of bent tubes which fit into smaller fixtures, fluorescent lighting was not replacing the job of the incandescent bulb in residential lighting. The energy crisis in 1973 began to give fluorescent lighting a bit of a foothold in residential lighting as the crisis initiated serious work in the development of the compact fluorescent light (CFL). The CFL showed potential promise in replacing the Edison base incandescent bulb but the first thing that stood in the way was the initial cos, t. The first CFLs cost as much as $25 each, which was a very steep price for one light bulb, even when considering the energy savings. The price eventually dropped and the twisted spring-like shape was ultimately enclosed in a vessel the shape and size of the ordinary incandescent bulb, yet they were still not becoming the preferred choice for residential lighting.
After the success of fluorescent lighting there was still plenty of research happening in the field of artificial lighting. The development of the first LED to produce light in the visible spectrum came about in 1962; Nick Holonyak Jr. produced a light emitting diode which emitted red light. Those first LEDs languished in the form of low-light producing indicator lights for many decades before becoming able to produce the light that is produced with today’s LED lights. Other developments in the lighting field which could be used to illuminate large areas, unlike LEDs of the time, included the introduction of the white sodium vapor light in 1986, and a 60,000 hour fluorescent light developed in 1991 by Phillips. A team at GE developed a ceramic metal halide light (CMH) during the years of 1992-1994, and Phillips soon followed with their own version which they called ceramic discharge metal lights (CDM). Although both these lights proved to be a great advantage over lighting technology of the time – energy savings, long life, a pure white light with high lumen output and great color rendering - they certainly were not lights which were intended for use in residential, or retail lighting. These lights are part of a family of lighting known as high-intensity discharge lighting (HID). HID lights are excellent for large area lighting and are better area lights than tungsten, or halogen-tungsten, or any other previous technology in that they are more energy efficient and emit more light from a smaller package. In 1994 the first commercial sulfur light was introduced, and although they were very efficient lighting and expected to make a big splash in the lighting industry, they were a disappointment and became a commercial failure by the late 1990’s. In 2005 or 2006 (depending on the source) sulfur lights were reintroduced but the technology was still fraught with numerous inherent drawbacks and, although some of those disadvantages have been improved on, the commercial success of these lights has not been extraordinary by any means.
All the different lighting technology that has been under development in the last 50 years or so has been an amazing improvement over the incandescent lighting that started the commercial success of artificial electrical lighting and the success of fluorescent lighting that followed, along with the other gas-discharge lighting improvements which have developed for large area illumination. Of course, the greatest and also the most amazing advances have come in the field of LED lighting. When taken into consideration the weak beginnings (simple, red indicator lights), the small size, and just the remarkable ability of the LED to produce the most perfect light yet developed, and from a solid state electronic device which has no filament or gas to create the light, these LED devices represent the amazing future of electrical artificial lighting. Mankind and the environment are in store for a huge change with the introduction and application of these amazingly wonderful lights. To imagine that LEDs have progressed from lights which could barely light the interior of a match box to lights which can now illuminate huge sports arenas – with energy efficiency and other metrics never before possible – is an amazing testament to what the brilliant minds of our times have accomplished in the field of artificial lighting.
This blog is a multi-part writing which will touch on the evolution of artificial lighting and will be continued in the upcoming weeks. In the meantime, if you need help with your LED lighting projects, please feel free to call Polar Ray at 303-494-5773 to speak with a lighting consultant. Thank you for perusing the Polar Ray website.