The name might be deceptive, because the Centennial Light Bulb right here in Livermore isn’t a commemorative or ceremonial bulb—it is actually more than 100 years old and still going strong!
The Centennial Light Bulb is the world’s longest-burning light bulb. Its light glows round the clock at the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department at 4550 East Avenue.
The fire department says that the Centennial Light Bulb is at least 113 years old—plus, it’s only been turned off a handful of times. This incredible feat of electrical engineering has been recognized by The Guinness Book of World Records, Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, and even General Electric.
The Fascination of the Centennial Light Bulb
How did this bulb become one of the most famous in the world? The story goes that Dennis Bernal, owner of the Livermore Power and Water Company, donated the bulb to the fire department in 1901, when it was already a few years old.
The Centennial Light Bulb’s history and recognition as the longest lasting bulb has been well documented—it even has its own source-rich Wikipedia page—but it’s media recognition began in the 1970s. In 2001, the bulb’s 100th birthday was celebrated with a community barbecue and live music.
And though this now-dim bulb with a storied history of consistency might not be exactly riveting entertainment, you can check in on it via a dedicated web cam. Bulb-watchers did receive a fright back in 2013, when it appeared to have burned out. Luckily the faulty power supply was to blame, and the Centennial Light Bulb was re-lighted shortly thereafter.
The Centennial Bulb on the Silver Screen
As one might expect of an object of fascination, there have even been films based on the Centennial Light Bulb.
The world famous Centennial Light Bulb in Livermore’s Fire Station 6 has burned almost continuously since it was first lit in the year 1901. In that time, it has seen war and peace, depression and prosperity, and a countless number of human events. Since being acknowledged by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1972, the 4-watt dynamo has received on-going press about its extraordinary lifespan, as each passing year marks a new milestone. From a technical standpoint, the Centennial Bulb may be considered a mere artifact comprised simply of glass, metal, and filament. But given its history, its incredible ability to endure, and the overwhelming sense of sentiment it creates, there is more to this tiny relic than merely its manufacturing.
Once upon a time…products were made to last. Then, at the beginning of the 1920s, a group of businessmen were struck by the following insight: ‘A product that refuses to wear out is a tragedy of business’ (1928). Thus Planned Obsolescence was born. Shortly after, the first worldwide cartel was set up expressly to reduce the life span of the incandescent light bulb, a symbol for innovation and bright new ideas, and the first official victim of Planned Obsolescence. During the 1950s, with the birth of the consumer society, the concept took on a whole new meaning, as explained by flamboyant designer Brooks Stevens: ‘Planned Obsolescence, the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary…’. The growth society flourished, everybody had everything, the waste was piling up (preferably far away in illegal dumps in the Third World) – until consumers started rebelling… Can the modern growth society survive without Planned Obsolescence?
Whether you’re a conspiracy theorist or a lover of historic relics, the Centennial Light Bulb in Livermore is yet another interesting draw to the area.
Whatever your reason for visiting Livermore, a relaxing and rejuvenating stay at The Purple Orchid will make your time in California wine country a trip to remember.