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Light bulb factory closes; End of era for U.S. means more jobs overseas

The last major U.S. factory making ordinary incandescent light bulbs will soon be closing. When it does, the remaining 200 workers at the Winchester, Va., plant, about 70 miles west of Washington, D.C., will lose their jobs, marking a small, sad exit for a product that began with Thomas Alva Edison's innovations in the 1870s.

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If there is a green bandwagon, as Doyle says, much of the Obama administration is on board. As a means of creating U.S. jobs, the administration has been promoting the nation's "green economy" - solar power, electric cars, wind turbines - with the idea that U.S. innovations in those fields may translate into U.S. factories. President Obama said last month that he expects the government's commitment to clean energy to lead to more than 800,000 jobs by 2012, one step in a larger journey planned to restore U.S. manufacturing.

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But officials are working against a daunting trend. Under the pressures of globalization, the number of manufacturing jobs in the United States has been shrinking for decades, from 19.5 million in 1979 to 11.6 million this year, a decline of 40 percent.

At textile mills in North Carolina, at auto parts plants in Ohio, at other assorted manufacturing plants around the country, the closures have pushed workers out, often leaving them to face an onslaught of personal defeats: lower wages, community college retraining and unemployment checks.

In Obama's vision, the nation's mastery of new technology will create American manufacturing jobs.

"See, when folks lift up the hoods on the cars of the future, I want them to see engines stamped "Made in America," Obama said in an Aug. 16 speech at a Wisconsin plant. "When new batteries to store solar power come off the line, I want to see printed on the side, "Made in America." When new technologies are developed and new industries are formed, I want them made right here in America. That's what we're fighting for."

But a closer look at the lighting industry reveals that isn't going to be easy.

At one time, the United States was ahead of the game in CFLs.

Following the 1973 energy crisis, a GE engineer named Ed Hammer and others at the company's famed Nela Park research laboratories were tinkering with different methods of saving electricity with fluorescent lights.

In a standard incandescent bulb, in which the filament is electrified until it glows, only about 10 percent of the electricity is transformed into light; the rest generates heat as a side effect. A typical fluorescent uses about 75 percent less electricity than an incandescent to produce the same amount of light.

The trouble facing Hammer was that fluorescents are most efficient in long tubes. But long, linear tubes don't fit into the same lamp fixtures that the standard incandescent bulbs do.

Working with a team of talented glass blowers, though, Hammer twisted the tubes into a spiral. The new lamps had length, but were also more compact.


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