Watts Up, Doc

Livermore, California
Longest Burning Lightbulb (The Centennial Bulb)

Centennial Bulb, shine a light on me

Centennial Bulb, shine a light on me

In 1901, U.S. President William McKinley was assassinated, succeeded by Theodore Roosevelt; Guglielmo Marconi made the first transatlantic radio broadcast; the first Nobel Prize was awarded; and, oil was discovered at Spindletop in Beaumont, Texas. Also this year, a hand-blown, 4-watt electric light bulb was installed in the ceiling of the firehouse at L Street in Livermore, California. What makes the installation of this bulb noteworthy is that it is still used today, over 108 years later, making it the longest burning bulb in the world. On its 100th birthday it was dubbed “The Centennial Bulb.” Finding it is a little tricky; essentially you have to be on your way somewhere else to get to it. As historic as it is, it is best attempted as a side trip, perhaps on a trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Livermore is relatively large, with Interstate 580 running right through it. A couple of turns off the interstate and you are there, at Fire Station 6. This is the bulb’s third and presumed final home (and yes, it was off while it was moved). The station generally isn’t busy; if the garage door is open where the fire trucks are housed, walk right in – they’re expecting you. You will likely be greeted with “You’re here to see the light?” The crew is friendly and helpful, but if you hear alarm bells, it would be prudent to get out of the way.

Me and my wife Claudia beneath the Centennial Bulb

Me and my wife Claudia beneath the Centennial Bulb

The bulb hangs near the right wall high up on the ceiling; at 4 watts, it’s barely as bright as a night light. A small American flag is attached to a pipe just below in case you’re having difficulty identifying the clear glass bulb amidst the rows of fluorescent fixtures. The firemen on duty are quick to tell you that depending on which way you stand, the lit filament spells out either “ON” or “NO” – for maximum impact, go for the “ON” view. You are encouraged to sign the guest book (which I doubt is over 100 years old) on a shelf below plaques and certificates confirming the bulb’s authenticity. The firemen will even take your picture when requested with the bulb in the background (a difficult task given the height of the ceiling).

A timeline shows events in the first 100 years of the bulb

A timeline shows events in the first 100 years of the bulb

A similar bulb in Fort Worth, Texas just hit the 100 year mark itself, but the Centennial Bulb still maintains the record and is the first bulb to break the 100 year mark. From a historic standpoint it is worth the diversion, but be sure to go during normal hours as you may not be able to get access after hours (although you can see it through the window). There is also a doorbell you can ring to get someone’s attention, but keep in mind it is a working firehouse. Unless you show up at a ridiculous hour of the night or the crew is preparing to respond to an alarm, you will most likely be cordially invited in. You can rest assured, like Motel 6, they’ll leave the light on for you.

The Centennial Bulb
Fire Station 6
4550 East Ave
Livermore, California 94550
GPS coordinates: 37°40’48.69″N 121°44’22.14″W

GALLERY: See images from Val’s visit to the Centennial Bulb in Livermore, California

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