I assumed that little environmental wonder was a recent invention, but it were initially cooked up in 1976 by Ed Hammer, then an engineer at General Electric. On the heels of the 1973 energy crisis, the multinational conglomerate asked Hammer to develop a light bulb that could reduce power consumption for anxious homeowners and tenants. The task was tricky: Hammer wanted to use a fluorescent lamp -- it converts energy into useful light more efficiently than Alexander Graham Bell’s incandescent variety -- but the material was generally tubed-shaped. That meant it was incapable of replacing existing bulbs unless manufacturers bent the light up like a balloon animal, creating substantial reflection loss and dooming the project altogether.
Hammer, as his name metaphorically suggests, would not be deterred. Through a series of tests, he came up with a way to curl up the tube and distance its new spirals far enough apart to cut down deflections (three lumens per watt, for the nerds out there) while still maintaining a bulb-like design. The result was a shape so ingenious that it still dominates the market today. (For five months in 2008, Hammer recorded a series of podcasts, hilariously titled “Drop the Hammer,” on the history of his engineering feat.)
More recently, Congressional Republicans have launched a curious, misguided cultural war against a newish regulation that tightens efficiency standards for lighting. Brad Plumer ran through the details of their disgust in November. Considering that each CFL reduces annual carbon dioxide emissions by about 170 pounds, it’s high time that somebody drops the hammer, so to speak, on those troglodytes.