October 26, 2016

Horse 2182 - The Thirty Year Light Bulb

Recently Mrs Rollo and I I were watching a documentary which was about the ways in which the consumer society which we find ourselves has been designed in such a way as to extract many of our hard won Dollarpounds, through the mechanism of not just planned obsolescence but planned disposability. One of the things mentioned was the great light bulb conspiracy of the 1924, where the big manufacturers of light bulbs (Osram, Philips, and General Electric etc.) got together and using their cartel power, imposed limits on the lifespan of light bulbs so that consumers would need to buy more because their light bulbs burned out. There is a light bulb in a fire station in Livermore, California, which supposedly has been going since 1901, and is often cited in reports and newspapers as evidence of the conspiracy.
Earlier this week, she was looking in our fridge and noticing that the fridge was old, she wondered how old the light bulb is. The truth is that I don't know but I have a suspicion that the light bulb inside the fridge could be more than thirty years old.

The fridge is so old that the brand General, isn't even sold any more. I think that General could be a sub brand of General Electric but again, I don't know. What I am fairly sure of though is that this fridge was in my grandparents' house before my grandpa died and my grandma moved to a smaller place, which means that the fridge dates from at least before 1987. Again, I don't know if the light bulb was changed in the period before I happened to acquire it but we certainly haven't changed the bulb, and if it hadn't been changed before we got it, then it might be the bulb which left the factory with the fridge. If it was replaced at some point, then it is at very least, an eight year old light bulb.

I have seen the General logo countless times and I still have no idea what it's actually supposed to be. Is it a stylized G? Perhaps a General in some sort of fancy hat? Who knows?
I haven't been able to find the Quality Assurance sticker on the back of the fridge and so, the only thing that I can say is that the fridge is at least 29 years old; to be honest, that's not bad at all.  We had a washing machine that decided that went brain dead and the cost of replacement of the computer, was more than the price of a new washing machine.
Sure, the fridge vibrates and hums a bit but that's because some bright spark thought it was a good idea to put down uneven slag tiling in one half of our house. What was wrong with nice wooden floorboards, I'll never know. It does mean that we still know that the fridge is working.

Our microwave oven has an equally interesting story. It also came from my grandparents' house and I have seen the QA sticker on the back; which proudly proclaims that it is a 1979 microwave oven. This in itself is somewhat remarkable because apart from the cost of microwave ovens back then, there was still a suspicion about the safety of microwaves and whether or not consuming food which had been cooked in that way, would lead to an increased risk of cancer. That's a little bit odd considering that in 1979, we were still perfectly happy with tobacco advertising on television, in print and in sport, when we knew that cigarettes absolutely cause cancer. The act of buying a microwave oven in 1979 might have been a progressive and revolutionary act.
Probably because most of the buttons are inductance switches, it means that there hasn't been physical movement and contact of metal tangs against each other. Physical wear is what limits the life of switches and so it would have been wise from a business point of view to have those fail, so that the customer would need to buy a new microwave. However, this was made in 1979, by Westinghouse Email and as such, it was of very good quality. Quite possibly, this microwave oven could have cost many weeks' wages in 1979; so it had to look as flashy and futuristic as possible. Hence the reason why it has a LCD display and inductance switches with no actual buttons. This very much looks like a product of the future, even if it looks dated now, with its very 1970s fake wood trim.
This was before the widespread use of LCDs in electronics and I bet that most microwave ovens of the day would have had a light bulb behind a plastic panel and a timer controlled by a spring. I note that our normal oven also has a green LCD display but that's probably from the late 1990s when the kitchen was remodelled.

Both of these appliances have moved between four houses and I can very easily picture in my mind, where they were in every kitchen that they've been in. They've seen eight Prime Ministers, five Presidents, they were around before the Berlin Wall came down, the fall of communism, the break up of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Sudan, they've been around since before the War On Terror, the Global Financial Crisis, and have outlasted dictators, tyrants and other newer appliances. Just in the time that I've had them, they've outlasted four cars. I rather like it fact that they've bucked the trend for planned obsolescence by the manufacturer because it means that they haven't had to be replaced - the easiest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your pocket.

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