It all started out so brightly. But isn’t that a fittingly ironic intro to a tale of deceit, trickery, and decidedly shadowy dealings?
We begin our tale in 1904, in the fire station of Livermore, Ohio. An electrician is in the process of fitting what will become “the centennial bulb” - Manufactured by the Shelby Electrics company and patented by the Frenchman Adolphe Chaillet. This bulb still shines today. A light that pointed to a bright future, but one that would be dimmed by events only 20 years later.
Adolphe Chaillet, inventor of the "centenary bulb
While municipal officials are unhooking the year-end illuminations from the city’s street lamps, a group of businessmen, lurking in the shadows of a backroom, are plotting the secret plan that will forever change industrial thinking.
Their diabolical idea? To join forces and create the Phoebus Cartel in order to take total control of the world light bulb market. And, paradoxically, to darken the future of our planet.
Cartel Member #1: Anton Frederik Philips, Co-Founder of Royal Philips Electronics
Fueled by their desire to maximise sales and put profits above all else, the Cartel, made up of the biggest bulb manufacturers, decided to impose limits to the lifespan of bulbs - reducing them to 1,000 hours, compared to 1,500 to 2,000 hours previously.
This decision will forever remain the first worldwide implementation of planned obsolescence.
Cartel member #2: Owen D. Young, President of General Electric
From 1924 to 1939, light bulb manufacturers around the world had no choice but to limit the lifespan of their products, being forced to send regular samples to the testing laboratories of one of the cartel members for inspection and approval.
Cartel member #3: Franjo Hanaman , Co-founder of Tungsram
If a single bulb of the sample exceeded 1,000 hours of life, its manufacturer was forced to pay heavy fines. Sound too crazy to be true? Here’s the source: https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-history/dawn-of-electronics/the-great-lightbulb-conspiracy
This monopolising agreement, originally intended to last 30 years, died prematurely with the declaration of the Second World War, its various members belonging to enemy nations.
Member of Cartel #4: William Meinhardt, CEO of OSRAM
Unfortunately, the legacy of the Phoebus Cartel lived on and still lives now in all sectors of industry. Making planned obsolescence a true global economic model and one of the main causes of overexploitation of natural resources.
However, by consuming more sustainably (such as through choosing refurbished phones and tech), you can fight back against needless waste, profiteering, and planned obsolescence, and have the Phoebus cartel spinning in their graves.
When not talking about the latest eco-friendly tech and reducing our carbon footprint, Brian enjoys the odd game of football, a classic horror (book or film) or just to kick back with a beer or a proper Scottish whisky. Slàinte Mhath!
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