MRO Magazine

Happy Birthday: The modern CFL light bulb turns 25


May 25, 2010
By PEM Magazine

Osram Sylvania is marking the 25th birthday of the modern compact fluorescent (CFL) light bulb. Born on April 17, 1985, in Hannover, Germany, the CFL arrived a full eight inches tall, consuming 20 watts of energy. The stick-shaped CFL was the first screw-in, energy-saving replacement for a standard incandescent light bulb that featured an integrated electronic ballast.

“The CFL has only improved with age,” said Alfred LaSpina, Osram Sylvania marketing manager for CFLs. “Today, the Sylvania Living Spaces CFL is half the size of our 1985 model, provides better light quality and lasts twice as long, while still delivering 75 percent energy savings.” 

While the CFL currently enjoys broad popularity in North America, it was slow to gain acceptance in the late 1980s and 1990s, when energy prices were low.
The lighting industry began tracking sales of integrated CFLs in the United States in 1997, when just 13.3 million units were sold, compared to 2.8 billion incandescent bulbs.

When energy costs began to rise in the early 2000s, so did the CFL’s popularity with businesses and homeowners. Integrated CFL sales in the United States increased from 57 million bulbs in 2001 to over 273 million in 2009. In Canada, the number of CFLs sold went from just under 1 million pieces in 2001 to a high of over 46 million pieces in 2007. The 2009 Sylvania Socket Survey found more than 70 percent of American households now have at least one CFL.


"Developing the first CFL with an integrated electronic ballast was a phenomenal experience,” recalls Alfred Wacker, one of the bulb’s inventors.  “Being able to save up to 75 percent of the energy of a standard bulb was a revolution in lighting.”

The first CFL light bulbs required heavy magnetic ballasts to operate or only worked in specialized fixtures. Engineers at the German lighting company Osram created the modern CFL by miniaturizing electronic ballast technology and integrating it into the light bulb itself. Osram produces Sylvania brand light bulbs in North America and introduced the modern CFL to the United States and Canada.

Dozens of types of Sylvania CFLs are available in North America today, with features including instant start technology, integrated dimmers, night light settings and various shapes and sizes.