During the industrial era, the cost of artificial light fell off a cliff — and the road to illumination was paved with ingenuity and slaughter. — Genius and blood: How cheap light transformed civilization, Tony Morley for Big Think

“Open your refrigerator door, and you summon forth more light than the total amount enjoyed by most households in the 18th century.” — Bill Bryson, from At Home: A Short History of Private Life

Concept Art: Human Progress for Beginners, Chapter: Inexpensive Artificial Light

"For nearly all of human history, fire was our only source of artificial light. Difficult to make and challenging to safeguard from wind and rain, fire was our first window into the darkness of night. Fire and the artificial light and radiant warmth it produced changed everything and helped catapult humans toward the modern age.

We have forgotten how unrelentingly dark the pre-industrial world was. Switch on a nightstand lamp or kitchen light, and you instantly and effortlessly summon into existence more illumination than was available to entire pre-industrial households. Artificial light has historically been the expensive privilege of the wealthy and powerful, while simultaneously being laborious and dirty to produce and maintain, and extremely limited in availability and quality for nearly everyone — but most especially for the world’s poor, which until industrialization was basically everyone

It is difficult to fathom just how expensive light was in the pre-industrial world. In what is now the United Kingdom, the price, adjusted for inflation, per million-lumen hours of artificial light was >£40,000 (or roughly $50,000 USD) in 1302 C[1]E. This is the cost-to-light output equivalent to running ten modern 13W LED bulbs for just 7 hours."

"The innovation trajectory that began with the first commercially available incandescent lighting has made clean, safe, and inexpensive artificial light available to nearly all of humanity and in doing so, has transformed civilization."

Pick up the rest of the story on Big Think, here: Genius and blood: How cheap light transformed civilization

  1. ^

    Light at Night, Max Roser and Hannah Ritchie, Our World In Data https://ourworldindata.org/light-at-night


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