History of the Dimmer Switch

The dimmer switch you see in homes today was invented in a New York City apartment by a man named Joel Spira. It was in 1959 that Spira started his dimmer switch invention and landed his patent to then start Lutron Electronics in 1961. A lot of the dimmer and toggle light switches we see in homes today use the infamous Lutron brand. Still based in Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, Lutron is known for its lighting systems made for the Statue of Liberty, the New York Times building, and the Bank of China.

 

What is a Dimmer Switch?

A dimmer switch is a light switch that allows a person to control a light fixture’s brightness by rotating or sliding a control switch.

 

Joel Spira and the Dimmer Switch

Joel Spira wasn’t the first one to invent the concept of dimming lights; however, he was the first one to introduce the dimmer switch into homes for residential use. Dimming lights was only done in theater type settings back then because the systems were big and expensive, using a lot of heat to absorb energy needed to dim lights. Spira was able to produce a switch that dimmed the light by stopping energy flow using a thyristor transistor, which is how he was able to create a smaller control that fits into the walls of our homes.

 

Dimmer switches are widely known for their energy-saving properties. A dimmer switch can save 4-9% in energy savings when compared to your standard toggle light switch. While known for energy efficiency, this wasn’t Spira’s purpose for inventing the home dimmer switch.

 

capri dimmer switch
The first Capri dimmer switch by Lutron. Source: http://insider.si.edu/2010/06/new-acquisition-lutron-electronics-donates-50-years-of-company-history-to-national-museum-of-american-history/

 

Capri: The Rotary Dimmer Switch

Lutron’s first produced dimmer switch was called the Capri. It was marketed towards women for ambiance lighting in the home. And that was Spira’s priority back when it was first manufactured: to give home lighting a more attractive look and feel for setting the mood. The Capri was a rotary dial switch that one could turn to brighten or dim the lighting of a room, and many of these are still found in homes today. One of the first Capri versions made is found in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History located in Washington.

 

dimmer switch
An early advertisement for the Capri Dimmer Switch highlights romance and ambiance. Source: http://www.npr.org/2015/10/24/451170011/a-light-bulb-moment-how-the-dimmer-switch-set-lusts-ablaze

 

Joel Spira passed away in April 2015 at the age of 88. And while he was founder of Lutron and credited for over 300 design and utility patents, Spira will always be remembered for the invention of the first dimmer switch.

 

 

 

Sources:

http://www.npr.org/2015/10/24/451170011/a-light-bulb-moment-how-the-dimmer-switch-set-lusts-ablaze

http://www.mcall.com/news/local/southernlehigh/mc-lutron-joel-spira-death-20150408-story.html

http://www.lutron.com/en-US/Company-Info/Pages/AboutUS/OurStory.aspx

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