Engineering Light for the Holidays

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Glew Engineering Consulting would like to wish everyone a happy and safe holiday.  We hope that you have a prosperous New Year. As we look forward to making new acquaintances, we also look back to the ones we made this past year and say thank you.  Being the holiday season, and since we have been doing our recent blogs relating to energy and technology, this week we will discuss a little history of how we light the holiday season.

The First Electric Christmas Tree

Electrical engineers and inventors have been improving the way we look at lighting with electricity since the late 1800’s. Gone are the days of using candle and fire for the main source of lighting up the evenings on our streets and in our homes.  Thomas Edison invented the first practical light bulb as well as the development of widespread electrical power generation and distribution. A contemporaneous inventor, Mr. Edward Johnson, worked for Edison as the Vice President of Edison Electric Company. In 1882, Mr. Edward Johnson powered a light on a Christmas tree in his New York City home using electricity for the first time. Less than eight years later, US factories and American workers began the mass production of stringed lights for the public to use on their holiday trees, homes, fences and many other things.   This created and changed traditions as friends and families would get together for tree lighting celebrations.  Businesses saw this as a new way of advertising and decorating their stores for the holidays.   

Lighting Technology Advances

The engineering and technological advances that have been made since then makes it seem like so long ago. Today, we have so many choices at relatively inexpensive costs, we forget to think back and remember the efforts and advances that make these possible. What was once considered too dangerous and extreme has now become so simple and natural. For example, the annual lighting of the tree in Rockefeller Center boasts 18,000 lights and stands 80 feet tall compared to the little, one light tree back in 1882. The stores across the city use tens of millions of lights to decorate instead of the few large stores having one window lit back in 1900. Not only trees and retailers have benefited from the innovations made in lighting, but the way large buildings in some of the biggest cities in the world now use massive amounts of lighting to display their greatness. As these giants grow bigger and tower above the skylines, bright, non-glaring types of up lighting are used to warn air traffic of their presence all while showing the beauty of their architecture.  Engineers allow us to enjoy the holiday lights in a more efficient and beautiful ways each year.

The types and breadth of lighting choices have changed dramatically since then. Today’s LED, OLED, and fiber optics are just some of the advances in lighting used today that come in many different sizes and forms and allow for changes in color at the flip of a switch. Light emitting diodes (LED’s) and organic light emitting diodes (OLED) allow for safer and more efficient ways to decorate and are even incorporated into stunning art creations.  They use much less energy and generate less heat than incandescent and even fluorescent lighting.  In the past, people made ornamental Lights with made painted glass, often considered toxic, or at least environmentally unsafe by today’s standards.  Of course, plasmas provide light; recall the Northern Lights,  Aurora Borealis, and plasma TVs.    However, plasma TVs has fallen from favor. Fluorescent lights are a form of plasma lighting.

All of this modern lighting begins with thin film technology, essentially semiconductor technology, that requires high technology factories, clean rooms, capital equipment, and highly skilled labor.  The creation of LED and OLED lighting requires semiconductor processing technologies such as chemical vapor deposition (CVD), physical vapor deposition (PVD) or sputtering, plasma etching, chemical mechanical polishing (CMP), and photolithography. Not so long ago our society relied on the technology of candle making, gas lamps, and lanterns, a quaint but distant step from the now ubiquitous modern high technology lighting.


So as we wrap up the past year, take a moment to think about the holidays in the past and how far we have come.  We have some great topics for our blogs to start the New Year and hope you will come back and allow us to share our thoughts with you. Again, we would like to wish everyone a happy and safe holiday season.


Related Blogs at Glew Engineering

The is one related blog, along with a few more below.


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