The Mazda Lamp Story...
On December 21, 1909, General Electric first used the name Mazda on their lamps. The name was trademarked, and assigned the number 77,779 by the United States Patent ands Trademark Office. Today, we associate the name with automobiles, but when it was first used by GE it was chosen to represent the best that the American lighting industry had to offer at the time, and was selected due to the fact that Persian mythology gave the name Ahura Mazda to the god of light.
The earliest light bulb filaments were made of various carbonized materials, including bamboo. Light output was rated in candlepower, with 1 candlepower or (1CP) being roughly equivalent to the light output of a single beeswax candle. Most carbon Christmas lights were rated at either one or two CP, but in actuality the output from each lamp varied widely. Practically speaking, it was virtually impossible to accurately rate the output from carbon filaments, even though each filament was made to the same standards.
In the early days of electric light bulbs, most of the bulb manufacturers each had their own set of production standards, and light bulb quality and light output was quite different both from brand to brand and from lamp to lamp within each brand. Lamp bases were not standardized, and light output ratings would vary greatly. This inconsistency was most frustrating to the consumer, which resulted in less than stellar light bulb sales. In 1909, General Electric came up with the idea of a set of manufacturing specifications to which all American lamp manufacturers could adhere, thereby effectively "standardizing" light bulbs in the United States.
General Electric's new service would be available for a price to all lamp makers who subscribed, and the MAZDA name would be widely advertised by GE in almost all of the popular magazines of the day. The MAZDA name and standards were available for license only for lamps using tungsten filaments (see NOTE below). Tungsten, a vast improvement over the carbon filaments, had a brighter, whiter light output which was much more even from lamp to lamp, assuring equal brightness when used in a string of Christmas lights. Improvements to household light bulbs were not usually incorporated into the small and much less used Christmas light bulbs until several years later due to increased production costs, and the use of tungsten in the manufacture of Christmas lamps did not appear until about 1916. It had been available in household lamps since 1907.
ad, from the a 1917 issue of Popular Science magazine, explains the Mazda
"mission", and reads as follows:
Many of the lighting companies then in business licensed the MAZDA name, among them the various Edison divisions of GE, Westinghouse and National companies. Most Christmas lamps after about 1925 or so will be found with either the General Electric or Westinghouse name on them, as the pair was by far the largest supplier of Christmas and other light bulbs in the United States. Westinghouse first used the Mazda name in 1912.
In 1921, GE further specified particulars to licensees of the Mazda name with the following regulation:
General Electric heavily advertised their MAZDA trademark in one of the most successful advertising campaigns in history. The lamps were more expensive, but promised better, more reliable and economical operation. The 1917 ad pictured here on the right is typical of those found in many magazines of the time. It compares the "wasteful carbon shape" to the tungsten filament. Bombarded with ads like these, the buying public gradually abandoned their old carbon filament lamps in favor of the new tungsten.
In about 1920, the Edison Mazda division of General Electric commissioned world famous artist Maxfield Parrish to create a series of calendars and other advertising paraphernalia based loosely on major events in the history of lighting. The picture on the left is from a 1923 calendar and is entitled "The Lamplighter of Bagdad". (Apparently neither the Edison companies nor Parrish himself caught the misspelling of the name "Baghdad"). Parrish's beautiful and most effective works of art created for this advertising campaign are highly collectible and most sought after.
UPDATE: Web site
visitor Jerry writes with information about the spelling of Baghdad
mentioned above. Jerry writes: "You mentioned in one spot that Baghdad was
misspelled in a GE ad, the incorrect spelling being "Bagdad." Actually,
Bagdad is or was an acceptable spelling for the name of the city. Check it
out in an old dictionary, atlas, or encyclopedia. Foreign spellings often
change. I remember when Vietnam was spelt Viet-Nam." The author is
grateful to Jerry for taking the time to write with this information.
Pictured here on the left is a typical 1920s ad by General Electric/Edison Mazda, and is from the December 12, 1925 edition of The Saturday Evening Post. The charming picture is by book illustrator Rundle. The ad promotes the use of electric lights for the Christmas tree and reads in part:
so much to Christmas cheer and the decoration of your home as electric
light. It is the least expensive of the season's joys. For the cost of an
old fashioned Christmas tree candle, for the cost of a few tree ornaments,
you can light up your whole house in a blaze of cheer. And keep the cheer
of Christmastide in your home throughout the year. Use light freely, for
electric light is the cheapest light the world has known. Just remember
that the best and cheapest light lamps to burn are Mazda Lamps. Mazda-the
mark of a research service."
As the decade of the 1930s began, Americans had fully accepted the MAZDA name as a symbol of quality for their Christmas light bulb needs, and many outfits proudly proclaimed the inclusion of MAZDA lamps in their sets. Only the economic factors continued to be a bit of a hindrance, as a typical MAZDA Christmas lamp sold for 5 cents, while the Japanese tungsten equivalent were two for a nickel. Competition from the Japanese became more fierce as the effects of the Great Depression settled in, and many lighting outfit advertisements from NOMA and General Electric urged they buying public to "Buy American". Comparison studies of American MAZDA versus Japanese tungsten lamps were commissioned by both General Electric and Westinghouse. Although the test criteria would probably not withstand close scrutiny by today's testing standards, results of the studies showed an average life of 46.8 hours for the Japanese tungsten lamps, compared to an average 207.4 hours for a MAZDA tungsten lamp, a dramatic difference. Nonetheless, the Japanese lamps gave good enough service to be huge sellers up until the beginning of World War II.
General Electric dropped the Mazda trademark in 1945, and ceased licensing the name as well. This cutoff date gives the collector a handy benchmark to use when trying to apply a date of manufacture to a light bulb. Only leftover stock carried the Mazda name on any General Electric or Westinghouse lamp sold after the 1945 cutoff.
Note: OldChristmasTreeLights™ and FamilyChristmasOnline™ are trademarks of Breakthrough Communications™ (www.btcomm.com).
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