The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Joel Spira, who patented light-dimmer switch, dies at 88

Joel Spira, who brought the light-dimmer switch to households across the nation and transformed Lutron Electronics into a leading manufacturer of lighting controls, died April 8 at his home in Springfield Township, Pa. He was 88.

The death was confirmed by his company, based in Coopersburg, Pa. The cause was not disclosed. Mr. Spira had reportedly been working with company engineers on a new product the night before he died.

Mr. Spira, who patented an electronic light-dimming device, developed Lutron Electronics into a worldwide distributor of motorized shades and lighting and temperature controls. He led the company for 54 years and most recently was chairman and director of research.

The privately held company said Mr. Spira is credited with more than 300 design and utility patents in the United States. Lutron holds 2,700 patents across the world.

A corporate history posted on the company’s Web site said that by 1959, Mr. Spira had developed a solid-state dimmer for incandescent lighting that was practical for home use. He and his wife, Ruth, incorporated Lutron two years later and set out to mass-market the product.

Mr. Spira was born in New York City and served in the Navy during World War II. He received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Indiana’s Purdue University in 1948.

Lutron employs 1,100 people in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, according to the Morning Call newspaper in Allentown, Pa.

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“Someday I’ll be gone,” Mr. Spira told the newspaper in 2012. “But dimmers will be with us forever.”