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Curator's Choice for Spring 2003:
Experimental Hollister "Litek" Lamp,1979

Photo of Hollister's 1979 Litek electrodeless lamp.
SI catalog #1992.0466.01; image #lar_cc3.

Several different compact fluorescent lamp types were tried during the 1970s. One approach, referred to as electodeless, held the promise of boosting efficiency and improving life by doing away with the tungsten electrodes found in common fluorescent lamps.The "Litek" lamp pictured above, developed by independent inventor Donald Hollister, is currently on display in the exhibition Lighting A Revolution at the National Museum of American History.


This lamp came to the Smithsonian in 1992, one of three experimental, energy-efficient lamps donated by the United States Department of Energy (DOE). The three lamps were sent by their respective makers (Lighting Technology, General Electric and Duro-Test) to DOE for test and evaluation of different energy saving techniques.

Photo showing components of 1979 Litek lamp.

The Litek takes its name from the company Hollister founded to promote his lamp, Lighting Technology Corporation. Notice the tip on the envelope–this was the attach-point for a vacuum pump, exactly as seen on Edison lamps of a century before. The metal fins moulded on the outside of the electronics capsule dissipate excess heat from the lamp's control electronics. This heat proved a difficult hurdle to overcome.

Drawing of electrodeless lamp from 1976 ERDA brochure.
Drawing from a 1976 brochure "Energy Conservation"
by the Energy Research and Development Administration.

The Litek lamp generated light with mercury vapor and a phosphor-coated envelope, just like an ordinary compact fluorescent lamp. But instead of using electrodes to excite the mercury, the Litek used a magnetic field generated by a small radio-frequency transmitter. The possibility of radio interference created some concern at the Federal Communications Commission, which asked Hollister for data on the field strength of his lamp.

Although the technical hurdles proved too difficult at the time, electrodeless lamps from several makers have been placed on the market during the last few years.

This Litek lamp measures 17.8 cm (7 inches) high by 8.25 cm (3.25 inches) at the maximum diameter.

    For additional information about the development of efficient lighting see:
  • Raymond Kane and Heinz Sell, eds., Revolution in Lamps: A Chronicle of 50 Years of Progress (New York: Upword Publishing Co., 1997).
  • The Smithsonian website: Lighting The Way


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