If you're not yet familiar with the NPR podcast "Planet Money," you should really get acquainted with it soon. The show does an excellent job of breaking down complex economic topics for the ears of laymen.
In a 2014 episode titled "The History of Light," which re-ran last week, hosts Jacob Goldstein and David Kestenbaum dive deep into the evolution of light –– from dim candles made of animal fat and twine to bright, highly-efficient electronic lighting that turns on with the flick of a switch, the clap of some hands, or the touch of an iPhone.
What will become apparent as you listen to the podcast episode is just how much the evolution of light has been a key driver in the overall advancement of civilization. As light became more and more ubiquitous, human productivity skyrocketed, making opportunity equally ubiquitious.
From about 2000 B.C. to around 1800 A.D., lighting didn't evolve much, though. It was around 1800 when, according to Yale economics professor Bill Nordhaus, both lighting and productivity took a sharp upward turn. The history of light, he says, is "economic history in a nutshell."
"From Babylonian times to around 1800, there were... even though there were improvements as best we can tell, they were very modest. And then around 1800 in the lighting, you can see it so clearly in lighting. It's just a enormous change in the pace of improvement."
And in the mid-1800s, with the discovery of kerosene and the invention of the kerosene lamp, things really improved. This invention, the hosts explain, drove the economy forward: "No more locking yourself in and huddling in the dark all night. Around this time, street lights start popping up and people start going out at night."
Of course, later that century, Edison's incandescent light bulb was patented, leading to a whole new round of light revolution.
Finally, the latest wave of innovation has come in the last decade, with the proliferation of solid state lighting, or LED.
Read more: Light emitting diode: What is LED?
Be sure to give the podcast episode a listen and discover just how fascinating artificial light is.
Learning about lighting? Check out the Lighting 101 section of our blog for more helpful content.