Livermore's Centennial Light

This week, we pay tribute to a light bulb. Not the light bulb -- as in the invention that made possible such innovations as the graveyard shift and the Easy-Bake Oven -- but a single specific bulb. Livermore's Centennial Light has been burning since 1901, and in the last few years has also garnered more publicity than most of the actors waiting tables in Hollywood.

With a visual design appropriate to the subject's vintage, the technical design is simplicity itself, with the only beyond-basic feature being a live webcam. The first stop beyond the home page is a simple list of Facts, laying out the bulb's vital statistics, closest competition, and visiting hours. Next, the Video page features the webcam (so that we can confirm --at thirty second intervals-- that the old bulb is still burning) and a collection of photo galleries.

The first gallery is, of course, exclusively dedicated to the bulb itself. (You might leave with the impression that this light has been photographed from more angles than Cindy Crawford - though you'd probably be mistaken...probably.) Other gallery pages feature the Livermore Fire Station Number 6, (where the bulb resides) and some photographic historical context - with images taken in 1901 along with shots of the same locations in the present day.

But even while sharing an understandable pride in an exceptional illuminator, the site is also unintentionally fascinating as it also demonstrates the Livermore Light to be almost as much a sociological as an engineering phenomenon - after all, how many celebrity light bulbs are there?

Not only does the light have birthday parties and family reunions, (the Livermore Light was 'reunited' with a sister bulb in August) it has proven itself to be a human interest gold mine for the press. The site lists more that 40 print Articles --from local papers to the Sunday Times of London-- and notes video coverage from the four major US television networks. Politicians, too, are drawn like moths to the carbide filament.

The Livermore Light site Awards page doesn't record Web design accolades, but rather is a collection of congratulatory certificates and letters from public servants ranging from the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to George W. Bush.

Let's take a moment to remind ourselves - this is a light bulb. Some 870,000-odd hours after it was first turned on, the only unknowns about this technological marvel and four-watt superstar are how much longer it will last, and what will be done with it after lights out.

The first question will eventually be answered via webcam. The second? Well personally, I can't wait to see the funeral.

Livermore's Centennial Light can be found at

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