Saturday, February 28, 2015

New to the Cleveland County Historical Society Archives: The Alexander’s Incandescent Light Bulb

A trip to historic Greenfield Village in Detroit, Michigan is a wonderful adventure for any visitor, who wants to see and experience America of the last two centuries. In order to preserve our historical heritage, Henry Ford created Greenfield Village in 1933. Over time, he added historical buildings collected and moved to the village from locations throughout the country so that they would be preserved and would stand as witness to the culture and history that they reflect. One of the exhibits is the reproduction of Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park New Jersey laboratory, where Edison researched many of his inventions. The most significant of those was the long lasting incandescent light bulb assembled by Edison in 1879. In the last thirty years, there are those who claim to have an incandescent light bulb that has been burning since installed, some over 80 to 100 years. Such was the case with Mr. and Mrs. O.L. Alexander of 916 N. Peters, Norman Oklahoma.  

In 1976, the Alexanders celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.  The Norman Transcript ran an article on the couple’s 70 years together and highlighted the fact that through 54 years of their marriage, an incandescent light bulb burned continually in their carport for all those years.  One of the reasons why those old light bulbs could last so long is that they were never turned off and on. When a bulb is turned on, the filament heats up, when turned off, the filament cools. This process causes the filament to develop stress lines, which eventually will break the filament. A light bulb that is left on continually does not develop the stress lines and tends not to break, which explains the long life of some incandescent light bulbs.


Over the years, the Alexander’s light bulb must have been a family conversation piece, perhaps a little wager between family and friends to when the light bulb would finally burn out. The continually shining bulb also marked the process of history. When the bulb was installed in 1922, Norman had around 8,000 residents and the world was enjoying economic prosperity. But, the storm of the Economic Depression of the 1930s was on the horizon, which was followed by war and then new economic expansion in the 1950s. The bulb shined through all, sort of a sentinel marking history for our little patch of the world and for the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Alexander.

In February 2015, Ginna Rose of Oklahoma City, a member of the Alexander family, donated the light bulb and the framed Norman Transcript newspaper story about the Alexander wedding anniversary to the Cleveland County Historical Society. With the filament still attached, the Alexander light bulb could continue to shine, but we will not test it for fear of breaking the filament.  The bulb sits on a table next to the framed article in the small Parlor of the Moore-Lindsay Historical House Museum. It is donations like this that help the historical society to add to our narrative of the history and culture of Norman, Oklahoma.    

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