Origins: Today you'll find a remarkable light bulb burning bright at a fire station in Livermore, California. It hasn't been turned off since 1901, shining around the clock (save for a few brief interruptions) for nearly one million hours now.
The Guinness Book of World Records, Ripley's Believe It Or Not and General Electric agree the four-watt, carbon filament bulb is the longest-living in history, despite two moves and a few power outages during its lifetime.
The bulb was donated to the department in 1901 by Dennis Bernal, a pioneer in the area who owned the Livermore Power and Light Co. It was hung as a night light (so firefighters wouldn't have to fumble around with lighting kerosene lamps) in a downtown garage that served as both a police and fire department five years before the great
Successive fire chiefs have regarded it as their talisman. "Nobody wants that darn bulb to go out on their watch," said former fire chief Stewart Gary. "If that thing goes out while I'm still chief it will be a career's worth of bad luck." Another captain joked that no one even dares to dust it, and anyone who so much as touches the bulb risks getting "your fingers chopped off." Previous chiefs have had standing orders that if any firefighter, for whatever reason, accidentally broke the light, that person would suddenly find plenty of time to update his résumé.
Many theories have been advanced to explain the Livermore bulb's longevity, the primary factors most often mentioned being its perfect seal (which maintains the vacuum and keeps the filament from disintegrating), its low wattage (which keeps it from burning hot), and that it is not subject to being turned off and on.
Barbara "light reading" Mikkelson
Livermore's Centennial Light BulbCam
Last updated: 7 July 2011
Glionna, John M. "At 107, Still a Real Live Wire." Los Angeles Times. 5 May 2008 (p. A1). Ho, Erica. "The World's Oldest Light Bulb Has Been On for 110 Years." Time.com. 16 June 2011. Martinez, Don. "World-Famous Light Bulb Has New Custodian." The San Francisco Examiner. 1 August 1994 (p. A2). St. Petersburg Times. "They'll Leave the Light On." 6 August 1994 (p. A10).