Home International Thomas Edison: GE, which traces its roots to Thomas Edison, sells its lighting business

Thomas Edison: GE, which traces its roots to Thomas Edison, sells its lighting business

Thomas Edison: GE, which traces its roots to Thomas Edison, sells its lighting business

By Michael Levenson

NEW YORK: More than 140 years after Thomas Edison and his assistants conducted their first successful experiments with a carbonfilament lamp in a vacuum, the company he helped to found — General Electric — has sold its lighting business.

Analysts said the sale, announced on Wednesday, was not a surprise. GE had sought to offload its lighting division for several years, as it focused on more profitable areas such as renewable energy and health care technology.

But in the annals of American corporate culture, where GE and the light bulb have long been synonymous, the uncoupling struck some as a pivotal moment, as if Kellogg had jettisoned its cornflakes business or Ford had stopped making cars.

“From the standpoint of people who associate the light bulb as the symbol of modern invention and innovation, there’s a kind of sadness to the fact that GE, which for many years was at the forefront of that industry, has moved away from it,” said Paul Israel, director and general editor of the Thomas A. Edison Papers at Rutgers University.

Major League Baseball played its first night game under GE floodlights in 1935. Nick Holonyak, an engineer, developed the first visible LED at a GE lab in 1962. And the company’s connection to the light bulb was captured in its ubiquitous television commercials, which promised, “We bring good things to life.”

Still, for years GE had been shifting away from that part of its business as it sought to focus on high technology, said Joseph Bower, a professor emeritus at Harvard Business School. In that sense, he said, the sale was symbolically significant but did not signal a major shift in the company’s strategy.

GE sold its lighting business to Savant Systems Inc, a home automation company based in Massachusetts. GE did not disclose the terms but said the lighting division’s headquarters would remain in Cleveland and its more than 700 employees would transfer to Savant upon completion of the sale. The deal also included a licensing agreement to allow Savant to use the GE brand. The transaction represented a closing to GE’s opening chapters in the second Industrial Revolution.

The company traces its roots to Edison’s experiments in his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, which made him the first recipient of a US patent for an incandescent lamp in 1880.

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