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The Struggle for the Perfect Glow: Metals Scarcity and Incandescent Lighting, 1880-1914
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Philosophy and History.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-9558-4621
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This article explores how metals scarcity affected – and was affected by – the development of incandescent lighting, and the strategies the manufacturers followed in trying to access metal resources. In the late nineteenth century, the rapidly diversifying market of gas and electric light sources carried visions of a brighter future. Lighting companies relentlessly tried to manufacture a light source with a pleasant white glow to satisfy their customers, but this glow was dependent on the metals in the lamps. This troubled manufacturers, as only a few very costly and scarce metals with a high melting point were suitable. Various manufacturers of gas mantles and electric lighting struggled to find a reliable supply of osmium, tantalum and thorium for their lamps, but found them expensive and difficult to acquire – as they had never before been used commercially. To complicate matters further, the metals were extracted in only a few mining sites, on which the companies became heavily dependent. To secure their supply and increase their independence, manufacturers pursued strategies from vertical integration to reducing their demand by, for instance, saving resources, substituting different metals, or pursuing new technological paths. Eventually the tungsten lightbulb came to dominate the market. One reason for its success was the non-problematic supply of tungsten.

National Category
History of Technology
Research subject
History of Science, Technology and Environment
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-219403OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-219403DiVA, id: diva2:1162742
Note

QC 20171206

Available from: 2017-12-05 Created: 2017-12-05 Last updated: 2017-12-06Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. The Specter of Scarcity: Experiencing and Coping with Metal Shortages, 1870-2015
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The Specter of Scarcity: Experiencing and Coping with Metal Shortages, 1870-2015
2017 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In spite of an ever-growing supply of metals, actors have long feared metal shortages. This thesis – departing from an understanding that metals scarcity is not an objective geological fact, but an experience, a fear of a shortage – explores why business and state actors have experienced metals as scarce and how they coped with scarcity from 1870 to 2015.

The underlying reasons for scarcity experiences originated in high prices, a lack of substitutes, domestic unavailability, limited infrastructure and increased demand. In the view of businesses and the state, a shortage of metals could hinder successful industrialization. Defining metals as scarce was a first step in their attempts to ensure access through exploration, recycling, substitution, and trade agreements.

This dissertation presents five case studies which provide insights into three selected aspects of metals scarcity that have been overlooked in previous studies. First, while small countries experienced and coped with metals scarcity in a similar way to large nations, they were more vulnerable because of their dependence on transnational flows controlled by larger countries. Yet if they remained neutral in international conflicts, they could enjoy other opportunities to import resources than their larger rivals. Second, industries experienced metals scarcity before World War I; with the onset of the Second Industrial Revolution, at the very latest, new technologies were often dependent on metals which had never before been used commercially – there were not yet any extraction systems in place. However, once these metals began to circulate, state actors became aware of the international traffic and began to classify certain metals as critical. Thirdly, technological change has affected – and been affected by – metals scarcity. If a metal was scarce, manufacturers were likely to embark on a different path to production. Inversely, sometimes new technologies were able to alleviate perceptions of scarcity.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2017. p. 106
Series
TRITA-HOT, ISSN 0349-2842 ; 2075
Keywords
scarcity, critical metals, Sweden, small countries, strategic metals, metal shortages, history of technology, experiences of scarcity, coping with shortages, technological trends, World War I, resource crisis, construction of resources.
National Category
History of Technology
Research subject
History of Science, Technology and Environment
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-219409 (URN)978-91-7729-610-2 (ISBN)
Public defence
2018-01-19, F3, Lindstedtsvägen 26, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note

QC 20171206

Available from: 2017-12-06 Created: 2017-12-05 Last updated: 2017-12-06Bibliographically approved

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