It may sound incredible, but there is actually a light bulb that has never burned out despite over 107 years of illumination. Built in 1901, the Centennial Light is located in Livermore, California, and is maintained by the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department. Perhaps even more incredible is the massive feud that has been burning over the longest lasting light bulb and its competitors. The angry letters and rumors have sparked quite a few people to roll their eyes at the situation. We’ll shed some light on this controversy, and the secret to the longest lasting bulbs on Earth.
General Electric, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, and The Guinness Book of World Records have all declared the Centennial Light to be the longest burning without burning out, but that hasn’t stopped several others to angrily declare their own light bulbs to be the longest lasting.
In the 1970 version of the Guinness Book of World Records, the previous contender had been given its prize as the bright burning world champion in Fort Worth, Texas. The Byers Opera house was where it was originally installed. Declared “The Eternal Light” by the owners, it was installed by Barry Burke, a stage hand working at the Opera House on September 21, 1908 to illuminate the entrance behind the stage. When the theater finally moved and was destroyed, the light bulb was carefully removed, and escorted by security to the nearby Livestock Exchange Building Museum where it resides to this day behind bullet-proof glass.
With the third longest lasting light came the controversy. In 1981 a letter appeared in the mailbox of a popular column, Abigail Van Buren would later publish the letter of consternation declaring the Fort Worth Texas bulb to have burned out. Many remember that fateful day as the one that plunged earth into a battlefield; a chaotic Battle of the Bulbs. More letters followed, each one growing more indignant as the veracity of claims made about the Fort Worth Bulb’s claim to longevity were called into question.
Finally, the letters were traced to a New York City Hardware store, and the owner of the world’s third longest burning bulb, Jack Gasnick. Gasnick declared that his experience as an electrician offered him a great deal of experience in the field of sniffing out mendacious claims by Light Bulb hoaxers. A skeptic at heart, Gasnick said the socket made for the bulb could not have possibly been installed at such an early date. In addition, the interior of the Burke Bulb was clean, when carbon deposits should have collected on the interior. Gasnick’s bulb had a thick residue on it. Eventually the controversy itself burned out as Gasnick disappeared along with his hardware store and the bulb in question never to be seen or heard from again.
So what about this bulb story is unexplainable? Perhaps it’s best not to just outright say it, but it does seem to cast quite a bit of light on human nature and controversy as a whole. If a man screws in a light bulb over a back stage door, it’s just a fifteen cent piece of glass that sheds light. But let that same light bulb do nothing more than illuminate a simple corridor for longer than anyone expected it to, and suddenly even it becomes a controversy. Perhaps the true story in this lies not in the bulbs themselves, but in the people surrounding them. People who, after a long life filled with hopes, dreams, pain, and success, will be remembered by the world simply for the parts they played in something so trivial and yet so noteworthy at the same time that I felt compelled to leave their names and the dates of their actions intact. And the entire history of Barry Burke, it seems, cannot hold a candle to the light bulb he unwittingly installed securing himself a place in history.