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  • - This is a video about things like cars,

  • phones, and light bulbs and an actual conspiracy

  • that made them worse.

  • This video was sponsored by NordVPN,

  • more about them at the end of the video

  • I am outside Livermore Fire Station, number six.

  • And in here, they have the longest,

  • continuously on light bulb in the world.

  • It has been on for 120 years

  • since 1901.

  • There it is.

  • - [Host] Yeah, that's it.

  • - It's not even connected to a light switch

  • but it does have a backup battery and generator.

  • So the big question is,

  • how has this light bulb lasted so long?

  • It was manufactured by hand not long

  • after commercial light bulbs were first invented,

  • And yet, it has been running for over a million hours,

  • way longer than any light bulb today is meant to last.

  • Awhile back, a friend of mine told me this story,

  • that someone had invented a light bulb

  • that would last forever years ago,

  • but they never sold it

  • because an everlasting light bulb makes

  • for a terrible business model.

  • I mean, you would never have any repeat customers

  • and eventually you would run out

  • of people to sell light bulbs to,

  • I thought this story sounded ridiculous.

  • If you could make an everlasting light bulb,

  • then everyone would buy your light bulb

  • over the competitors.

  • And so you could charge really high prices,

  • make a lot of money, even if demand would eventually dry up.

  • I just couldn't imagine that we had better light bulbs

  • in the past and then intentionally made them worse,

  • but it turns out I was wrong.

  • At least sort of.

  • Inventing a viable electric light was hard,

  • I mean, this is the typical incandescent design,

  • which just involves passing electric current

  • through a material making it so hot that it glows,

  • less than 5% of the electrical energy comes out as light.

  • The other 95% is released as heat.

  • So these are really heat bulbs,

  • which give off a little bit of light as a by-product.

  • The temperature of the filament can get up to 2,800 Kelvin.

  • That is half as hot as the surface of the sun.

  • At temperatures like those, most materials melt.

  • - That's so cool. - And if they don't melt,

  • they burn,

  • which is why in the 1840s, Warren De la Rue came

  • up with the idea of putting the filament in a vacuum bulb,

  • so there's no oxygen to react with.

  • By 1879, Thomas Edison had made a bulb

  • with a cotton thread filament that lasted 14 hours.

  • Other inventors created bulbs with platinum filaments

  • or other carbonized materials.

  • And gradually, the lifespan of bulbs increased.

  • The filaments changed from carbon to tungsten,

  • which has a very high melting point.

  • And by the early 1920s, average bulb lifetimes

  • were approaching 2,000 hours with some lasting 2,500 hours.

  • But this is when lifetimes stopped getting longer

  • and started getting shorter.

  • In Geneva, Switzerland just before Christmas, 1924,

  • there was a secret meeting of top executives

  • from the world's leading light bulb companies,

  • Phillips, International General Electric,

  • Tokyo Electric, OSRAM from Germany,

  • and the UK's Associated Electric among others.

  • They formed what became known

  • as the Phoebus Cartel named after Phoebus,

  • the Greek God of light.

  • There, all these companies agreed

  • to work together to help each other

  • by controlling the world supply of light bulbs.

  • In the early days of the electrical industry,

  • there had been lots of different

  • small light bulb manufacturers,

  • but by now they had largely been consolidated

  • into these big corporations,

  • each dominant in a particular part of the world.

  • The biggest threat they all faced was

  • from longer lasting light bulbs.

  • For example, in 1923, OSRAM sold 63 million light bulbs,

  • but the following year they sold only 28 million.

  • Light bulbs were lasting too long, eating into sales.

  • So all the companies in the cartel agreed

  • to reduce the lifespan of their bulbs

  • to 1,000 hours cutting the existing average almost in half.

  • But how could each company ensure

  • that the other companies would actually follow the rules

  • and make shorter lasting light bulb.

  • After all, it would be in each of their individual interests

  • to make a better product to outsell the others?

  • Well, to enforce the 1,000 hour limit,

  • each of the manufacturers have to send in sample bulbs

  • from their factories and they were tested on big test stands

  • like this one.

  • If a bulb lasted

  • significantly longer than 1,000 thousand hours,

  • then the company was fined.

  • If a bulb lasted longer than 3000 hours,

  • well the fine was 200 Swiss Francs

  • for every 1,000 bulbs sold.

  • And there are records

  • of these fines being issued to companies.

  • But how do you make a worst light bulb in the first place?

  • Well, the same engineers who had previously been tasked

  • with extending the lifespan now had to find ways

  • to decrease it.

  • So they tried different materials,

  • different shaped filaments, and thinner connections.

  • And if you look at the data, they were successful.

  • Ever since the formation of the cartel.

  • the lifespan of light bulbs steadily decreased.

  • So that by 1934, the average lifespan was just 1,205 hours.

  • And just as they had planned, sales increased

  • for cartel members by 25% in the four years after 1926.

  • And even though the cost of components came down,

  • the cartel kept prices virtually unchanged,

  • so they increased their profit margins.

  • So did people know that the light bulb companies

  • were conspiring together to make their products worse?

  • No, the Phoebus Cartel claimed that its purpose was

  • to increase standardization and efficiency of light bulbs.

  • I mean, they did establish this screw thread is standard.

  • You can find it on virtually all light bulbs

  • around the world now.

  • But all evidence points to the cartels being motivated

  • by profits and increased sales,

  • not by what was best for consumers.

  • So one of the reasons this light bulb has lasted so long is

  • because it was made before the cartel era.

  • Another reason is because the filament has always been run

  • at low power, just four or five watts.

  • It was meant to be a nightlight

  • for the fire station to provide just enough light

  • so that firemen wouldn't run into things at night.

  • And the fact that it was always

  • on reduced the thermal cycling

  • of the filament and components limiting the stress caused

  • by thermal expansion and contraction.

  • The Phoebus Cartel was initially planned to last

  • at least until 1955, but it fell apart in the 1930s.

  • It was already struggling due to outside competition.

  • And non-compliance amongst some of its members,

  • but the outbreak of World War II is

  • really what finished it off.

  • So this cartel was dead,

  • but its methods survived to this day.

  • There are lots of companies out there

  • that intentionally shortened the lifespan of their products

  • it's a tactic known now as planned obsolescence.

  • This was actually the subject of Casey Neistat's

  • first viral video all the way back in 2003.

  • - [Support] Thank you for calling Apple, my name is Ryan.

  • May I have your first name please?

  • - [Casey] Casey.

  • - [Support] ] All right, and what seems

  • to be the issue today?

  • - [Casey] I have an iPod that I bought about 18 months ago

  • and the battery is dead on it.

  • - [Support] 18 months, okay, it's past it year,

  • which basically means there'll be a charge

  • of $255 plus a mailing fee to send it to us

  • to refurbish, to correct it.

  • But at that price, you might as well go get a new one.

  • - [Narrator] This video got millions of views

  • in a time before YouTube or social media.

  • And it spawned a class action lawsuit,

  • which Apple settled out of court,

  • but it didn't stop the company

  • from practicing planned obsolescence.

  • After an iOS update in 2017,

  • users of older iPhones found apps loading

  • significantly slower or the device shutting down altogether.

  • Apple said they throttled performance to protect the battery

  • of older devices and increase their longevity.

  • Of course, that wouldn't be an issue

  • if the battery were replaceable.

  • In a series of lawsuits that concluded in 2020,

  • Apple was fined or reached settlements

  • to pay hundreds of millions of dollars,

  • undoubtedly, this amount pales in comparison

  • to the extra revenue they generate

  • by limiting the lifespan of their products.

  • But some would argue that planned obsolescence isn't

  • just about greed, but that it's also good for everyone.

  • During the great depression in the 1930s

  • when as much as 1/4 of Americans were out of work

  • and real estate broker Bernard London

  • proposed mandatory planned obsolescence

  • as a way to get people back to work

  • and lift America out of the depression.

  • He wrote, "I would have the government assign a lease

  • of life to shoes, and homes, and machines

  • when they are first created

  • and they would be sold and used within the term

  • of their existence, definitely known by the consumer.

  • After the allotted time had expired,

  • these things would be legally dead

  • and would be controlled by the duly

  • appointed governmental agency and destroyed

  • if there is widespread unemployment."

  • Now, this might sound like a wild fringe idea,

  • but people were clearly afraid of being put out of work

  • by technological progress and products that were too good.

  • There was even a popular Oscar nominated film about it.

  • "This is the man in the white suit from 1951."

  • It's about a scientist who invents the perfect fiber.

  • It won't stain or break, or fray.

  • - I think I've succeeded

  • in the copolymerization of amino acid residues

  • and carbohydrate molecules, both containing ionic groups.

  • It's really perfectly simple.

  • - [Narrator] The Academy award nomination was

  • for best screenplay, I kid you not.

  • Anyway, everyone is initially excited

  • about our heroes scientific discovery.

  • He makes a suit out of the thread and it has to be white

  • because the fiber is so stain resistant,

  • it can't even be dyed,

  • but this is when trouble strikes,

  • the factory owners realize they won't be able to sell

  • as much of this thread because it's so durable.

  • And the workers worry it'll put them out of a job.

  • - Why can't you scientists leave things alone?

  • What about my better washing when there's no washing to do?

  • - This is when you get the climactic scene

  • where factory workers and factory owners team up

  • to chase down the scientist to destroy him

  • and his invention.

  • And believe it or not, this movie may have been inspired

  • by real events.

  • In the 1940s, the synthetic fiber nylon replaced silk

  • in stockings, and it was so durable

  • that the products became an overnight sensation.

  • There were literal riots when women tried

  • to get their hands on them.

  • When the manufacturers realized

  • they had made the product too good,

  • they didn't destroy the fiber,

  • but they did follow the example of the Phoebus Cartel.

  • They instructed their engineers and scientists