The Cost Of Light Through The Ages

"Could all historians (and economists) please just turn their attention away for a short moment?! " asks Der Spiegel's Guido Mingels, as he reflects on the evolution in the costs of making light work through the ages (spoiler alert - it appears deflation is a 'good' thing).

Let's talk straight: All man had achieved before 1800 isn't really worth mentioning. Easy peasy stuff. For thousands of years nothing really happened.

These days, you visit a museum and are expected to marvel at an ancient plow or a knight's armor, when back then they didn't even have electric lighting. No switch, anywhere!

The history of artificial lighting accompanies and enlightens the Anthropocene, as some call the times from the year 1800 onwards, when mankind started showing off what its real capabilities were. Without light in the coal pits and in the factories, which from then on could be lit at all times, the industrial revolution would have had to have been postponed.

The costs for the production of light, one of the most important enablers of progress, have dropped in a way that is hardly imaginable. The environmental economists Roger Fouquet and Peter Pearson have retraced this development for England.

Infographic: The Cost of Light Through the Ages | Statista

You will find more statistics at Statista

One hour of light (referred to as the quantity of light shed by a 100 watt bulb in one hour) cost 3200 times as much in 1800 in England than it does today, amounting to 130 euros back then (or a little more than 150 dollars).

In 1900, it still cost 4 euros (close to 5 dollars).

In the year 2000, we arrived at a cost of 4 euro cents (5 U.S. cents).

You can also put this into relation with the amount of time that an average worker needed to labor during different ages in order to earn enough for the 100 watt bulb to glow for an hour - just like the economist William Nordhaus has done in one of his classic essays.

The people of Babylon, in 1750 B.C., who used sesame oil to light the lamps, had to work for 400 hours to produce the said amount of light.

Around 1800, using talcum candles, 50 hours needed to be invested.

Using a gas lamp in the late 19th century, 3 hours were due.

Using an energy saving bulb today, you will have to work for the blink of an eye - a second.

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The chart and text were first published by German journalist and author Guido Mingels. It is available as a book here. As always, our charts are free to use and share, just quote DER SPIEGEL/Statista as the source and include a backlink to the graphic's URL (this page).

Comments

Mr 9x19 The central planners Mon, 08/07/2017 - 04:08 Permalink

this chart means nothing. utterly. still half the planet do not have grid.they still work hard and surpassed BC techies... it is not because it is cheap that :1) everybody have it2) everybody need it3) everybody will keep it personally if i could swap my life with a no grid lifestyle on a beach with local sexy girls and good natural food and joy of life without all this fucking tourism virus invasion, i would gladly give my keyboard.problem is, you're quiet and calm nowhere on this fucking planet as long you have oil to let the mass move as they want. this is an aberration, people should not be able to go everywhere, this is the very 1st problem of humanity,  hypermobility make them do no give a fuck about local fauna, onc they  fucked the place, they move. if people on nuke plants had to live on spot i garantee you there would not have been a single accident.

In reply to by The central planners

TeraByte SilverRhino Mon, 08/07/2017 - 15:57 Permalink

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Cat videos make me some sense compared with the energy gone wasted to fighting people you never met.
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In reply to by SilverRhino

Dindu Nuffins Mon, 08/07/2017 - 03:09 Permalink

Beeswax candles aren't that hard to make, and are a byproduct of honey production. Tallow candles are even easier, since it's just lard from slaughtered animals. Once again, an "economist" tries to appear smart and make a feel good point.Reminds me of a recent "Chinese % of Global GDP throughout history" graph that was popular some time ago that was meant to make the point that China is "returning" to its rightful place... one problem, the GDP graph blatantly forgot little bumps like the Tianping Revolt and the Mongol and Qing Conquests, in which hundreds of millions died, and the graph was clearly just bullshit conjured by an economist with no familiarity with Chinese history.

I Write Code Mon, 08/07/2017 - 03:23 Permalink

>Let's talk straight: All man had achieved before 1800 isn't really worth mentioning.That's like saying that until Justin Beiber, music wasn't worth listening to.>Using an energy saving bulb today, you will have to work for the blink of an eye - a second.To get 800 lumen-hours still requires eleven watt-hours, so at twelve cents per kilowatt hour, ... about a tenth of a cent?  So at $36/hour that's a penny a second ... so a tenth of a second?  OK, point made.  But even the hot old 100 watt bulb only cost a penny and that's hundred year old news.  Film at eleven?

Debugas Mon, 08/07/2017 - 03:37 Permalink

the true indicator of progress is energy produced per capita per time unit https://ourfiniteworld.com/2012/03/12/world-energy-consumption-since-18…as can be seen the population started growing rapidly with the advent of oil ( coal alone could not lift us ) and today we are still the children of the oil and gas age If we want to expand and continue to grow we desperately need more energy dence sources like nuclear fusion but we still cannot make it

Deres Mon, 08/07/2017 - 03:45 Permalink

It is a very important historical data. In fact, the point where it was possible to work at night, ie the cost of one hour light was under one hour of work, was a great achievement in productivity.

Deres Mon, 08/07/2017 - 03:45 Permalink

It is a very important historical data. In fact, the point where it was possible to work at night, ie the cost of one hour light was under one hour of work, was a great achievement in productivity.

BigCumulusClouds Mon, 08/07/2017 - 03:49 Permalink

This article nicely demonstrates, that despite all the major advancements in productivity, prices still rise. Of course the price increases are a tax that every person who does businesses in dollars must pay, by way of inflation, to the US government and to the Federal Reserve member banks who buy treasuries or who make loans. Prior to 1913 there was no such tax and the American citizen was free.

Faeriedust DEMIZEN Mon, 08/07/2017 - 20:08 Permalink

Yes, for small household users, 50% of the bill comes in the fixed chunk for billing and delivery, and the half of you bill that supposedly is dependent on how much you use is charged at a rate twice as high as those who use ungodly amounts pay.  So you could use twice as much as you use, being careful and conservation minded, and pay exactly the same price.

In reply to by DEMIZEN

MaxThrust Mon, 08/07/2017 - 04:33 Permalink

The metric is incorrect. If someone can see using a candle and get done what they want to do then this light is just as useful as that coming from a 100watt bulb.

moorewasthebestbond (not verified) Mon, 08/07/2017 - 04:36 Permalink

Tom Brady (the quarterback dude with the monster 220,000 sq ft house in California) reminds you common folks to unplug your phone charger and turn off the lights when not in use. Seriously folks... on a more practical note... for light insurance... nothing beats a 55 gallon drum of kerosene and an armful of oil lamps.

DaBard51 Mon, 08/07/2017 - 05:01 Permalink

"Talcum" candles?  Tallow candles, what is meant (4th last paragraph).  Or wax.Proofreader, on your smartphone you must be... get to work.  When nine hundred years old you become, look this good you will not.

Byte Me Mon, 08/07/2017 - 06:51 Permalink

The people of Babylon, in 1750 B.C., who used sesame oil to light the lamps, had to work for 400 hours to produce the said amount of light.Around 1800, using talcum candles, 50 hours needed to be invested.

WTF is a 'talcum candle'?TALLOW - well, ok. But were the <LGBTQQbotty> community rewriting xistory (sicc) at the conclusion of the 18th century?I think NOT!But this tosser is trying a psyop imho..Babylonians using "sesame street oil" at yuuuuuge per capita cost  -- give us all a fucking break..The wonderful Babylonians (a civilizational 'high point' for their time - no question) just could not have known about rendered animal (or slave) fat - now could they?BOLLOCKS ARTICLE.(PS - sesame oil is better used in salads..)

Faeriedust Byte Me Mon, 08/07/2017 - 20:04 Permalink

They used sesame oil because it gave a nicer, cleaner light than tallow, and was cheaper.  Tallow is smoky and nasty.  And it requires a high proportion of cattle production vis-a-vis the human population, which Babylon didn't have.  Most cattle in Babylon were work-oxen, and weren't slaughtered for eating or other products.And no, it didn't take 400 hours of work for one hour of light.  

In reply to by Byte Me

Faeriedust goldinpenguin Mon, 08/07/2017 - 19:58 Permalink

But at 20X the capital cost of investment.  For many peope who don't make $50/hr, paying $12-15 PER LIGHT BULB is ungodly steep, especially if they have to do it all at once, as with moving into a new home (I don't care if it's an apartment or a house, the previous owners ALWAYS leave at least one in three bulbs burned out or absent).  By comparison, an incandescent bulb costs -- or used to cost when you could get them -- $0.99 per two.  Likewise, LED and CF lightbulbs never last more than half as long as their package inserts claim they will.  And a "100 watt replacement" of either variety generally provides 85% of the light of the actual 100 watt bulb.I'm not saying they aren't potentially an improvement.  They're certainly wonderful for small lights that run on batteries and for camping equipment where you don't expect REAL light, just something to keep you from stumbling over your feet in the dark.  But they certainly don't live up to their press.  And the bit about only being 85% percent as effective is a real problem, as they don't make bulbs in a power/size/brightness to compensate, i.e., a "120 watt replacement" that would actually be as bright as a real 100 watt bulb.  Either these things are being touted by druggies whose eyes are always so widely dilated that bright light is uncomfortable anyway, or Our Fearless Rulers are trying to force us all to become accustomed to making do with a dimmer, darker world.  That costs twice as much (20X price for 10X -- at most -- bulb life).Facts and figures: in 1980, a real 100 watt incandescent bulb produced 1850 lumens of light.  In 1995, a typical "soft-white" incandescent bulb produced 1600 lumens.  In 2001, a typical CP bulb produced 1500 lumens.  In 2017, a "100-watt replacement" LED lightbulb produces between 1325 and 1600 lumens, with 1525 being typical.  Of course, if you hadn't lived for fifty years AND been obsessed with adequate light due to extreme SAD sensitivity, maybe you wouldn't have read all those package labels.

In reply to by goldinpenguin

Stud Duck Mon, 08/07/2017 - 08:31 Permalink

I like the author approach of measuring the cost of light. It mentioned seame oil nad talcum candles, but nothing mentioned about whale oil for light. That little exclusion of what was used make this one a little suspect, as almost everyone knows, whale fat oil was used almost exclusively in the 1800's. Kerosene came along and wiped the whale oil industry out in less than a decade.It was a good measurement attempt!

Stevious Mon, 08/07/2017 - 13:12 Permalink

Stupid writer!  There is no such thing as talcum candles.  TALLOW Idiot!I don't believe his numbers either.  500bc olive oil was burned.  Even the sesame seed oil for the ancient temples did not take 400 hours of work to create a pint of oil, unless you want to count the hours of sunshine for the seseme seeds to mature.Terrible article, though interesting point.