Twin Towers of Living Light

Tonight, at sundown, two square shafts of blue light will ascend into the heavens from the ground of New York City, symbolizing the former towers of the World Trade Center.  These shafts of light shine in tribute to the men, women, and children killed during the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001.

Tribute in Light.

Tribute in Light. Photo by Flickr user beanhead4529.

“Tribute in Lights” is the product of artists Julian La Verdiere and Paul Myoda. It consists of 88 7,000-watt xenon spotlights in the shape of two squares that shine four miles into the sky—the strongest shaft of light ever projected vertically into the sky. Xenon lights are the same type used in such common devices as strobe lights, camera flash bulbs, and IMAX and digital film projectors. The lights can be seen from over 60 miles away.

It takes a lot of energy to power the generators used for the lights. In an effort to be more environmentally conscious, the generators are fueled with biodiesel fuel made from cooking oil that is collected from local restaurants. Contrary to what you may think, the ideal atmospheric conditions for the lights are a misty fog—the light needs to reflect off of particles and moisture in the air. They are truly an achievement of contemporary lighting techniques.

The technology behind this tribute is a feat, but the artists behind them originally had an even more cutting-edge project planned for the World Trade Center. La Verdiere and Myoda were exploring the possibilities of using bioluminescence to create beams of light. Their studio was located within World Trade Center 1 (the north tower), on the 91st floor. In 1999 they began to explore the possibility of creating a bioluminescent beacon of light that would be emitted from the radio tower of the north tower.

The light they planned to use is based on innovative research into bioluminescence—the natural light emitted by some living organisms (“living light”). The artists’ goal was to develop a way to amplify and control the bioluminescence of some of these organisms in order to use them to beam light. One organism in particular—sea plankton (dinoflegellates), which emits a blue light when it is agitated in the water—seemed promising.

An example of bioluminescence.

Bioluminescing Dinoflagellate. A biological clock triggers bioluminescence in the dinoflagellate Pyrocystis fusiformis. At dusk, cells produce the chemicals responsible for its light. Photo by E. Widder, ORCA, www.teamorca.org, via the National Museum of Natural History.

This research took place in the invertebrates department of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Over the next six months, the artists selectively bred different planktons in order to create the brightest and largest bioluminescent plankton possible. They also learned how to control when the plankton rested and when they emitted light. They planned to use the amplified light of a single bioluminescent celled organism as a “bioluminescent beacon” that would shine like a spotlight from the world trade tower.  The “bioluminescent beacon” was slated to be unveiled in spring 2002.

With preliminary work completed, La Verdiere and Myoda moved out of their World Trade Center 1 studio several weeks before September 11. A desire to mark the six month anniversary of the terrorist attach resulted in their work being put to a modified use. While the xenon spotlights used in “Tribute in Lights” replaced the bioluminescent concept, there are undeniably similarities in the projects.

Using bioluminescent light for human lighting solutions is something still being explored by many. A team of scientists from Syracuse University are attempting to create lighting using the bioluminescence of fireflies. The team believes that their bioluminescent lighting system could be 20 to 30 times more energy efficient than any previous systems. Also, bioluminescent bacteria are also being used by Philips Designs to produce lighting that will both consume waste and emit light. Research projects on human uses for bioluminescence are at the cutting-edge of energy efficient lighting experimentation. As research in this field advances, perhaps La Verdiere and Myoda’s work will truly come full circle and, in the future, living organisms may fuel the light emitted from the National September 11 Memorial. Intended to symbolize lost life, I can’t image a more fitting place for two towers of “living light.”

For more information on how the “Biolulminescent Beacon” please go to “The Genesis of the TRIBUTE IN LIGHT” by Julian LaVerdiere and Paul Myoda.

Bob Casey: Beyond the Podcast

I recently interviewed inventor Bob Casey for the Lemelson Center’s podcast series. As with many people I’ve interviewed, Bob had many interesting stories to share—far more than can be contained in a 20-minute podcast. Although our podcast focused on the debut of the dual turntable system, Bob also told us how he ended up donating objects to the National Museum of American History and about his military career.

Bob shadowed his father Edward P. Casey (a pioneer in commercial sound system design and installation) on many of his sound system projects.  His father built a rectangular box with two multi-speed transcription turntables inside for a religious event. After the event his stored it away. Years later, Bob took the discarded box and used it in 1958 to present prerecorded music at teenage dances by combining his father’s dual turntable box with two special Hi Fi horn speakers. This was the first time that dual turntables were used at a dance to play prerecorded music—introducing a whole new format of entertainment nearly ten years before the technology became the standard of every DJ. The equipment gave Bob the advantage he needed to put on some of the best dances in the area and he was asked to run “Record Hops” in other venues including country clubs and parks.

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Now retired in upstate New York, Bob was cleaning out some old equipment from his shed, separating it into “throw” and “keep” piles. That first dual turntable system went into his “throw” pile. Fortunately, one of Bob’s friends told him he was crazy if he threw it out. After photos of the dual turntable box appeared in books about DJs, Bob was encouraged to contact someone about finding it a good home. Upon contacting the National Museum of American History in 2012, curator Eric Jentsch requested a few photos of the turntable. Eric assumed he would get a few photos of the device sitting on a tabletop, but Bob took this opportunity to photograph it in the environment it originally debuted. He reassembled the entire system in the same high school gym he first played it at in 1958—St. Eugene’s in Yonkers, NY. It was a wonderful way for Bob to have one last experience with the equipment before giving it to the national collections.

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While interviewing Bob, I discovered that the inventiveness and resourcefulness demonstrated by his invention also shaped his military career. While stationed in an infantry outfit in Germany in 1967, Bob’s reputation earned him an audition—though he didn’t know it at the time. One day, while visiting the flagship station (network) of the American Forces Network –Europe in Frankfurt, Germany, the Head of Network Production, who had previously met him, casually asked Bob to put together a few promos for radio. Bob furiously put some things together on reel to reel tape but the officer started to play it before Bob thought it was completed.  Bob tensely watched as the officer listened to his improvised radio intros. The officer said he loved it and offered Bob a position at the network.  After only six days on the job, another twist of fate redirected Bob. As part of the military “lottery system,” he was given orders for Vietnam. However, by taking an audition that was so bad that it was good, and with many letters of commendation from the European station, his abbreviated position in Germany allowed him to serve his time in Vietnam as Head of Radio Production for AFVN. Without his skills to invent and create on the spot there’s no telling where he might have ended up.

Listen to our podcast with Bob Casey.

Your Electric Servant

He could do thousands of jobs (laundry, vacuuming, ironing, cooking, and more), for all kinds of people, seven days a week, every week of the year. A tireless and efficient guy, he was also fast and dependable, and never took a vacation. He was the ultimate symbol of service. Reddy Kilowatt, a cartoon stick figure with a light bulb for a nose, wall outlets for ears, and a body and limbs made of lightning bolts, was the icon of electricity for many Americans.

Pamphlet from the Central Illinois Light Co., July 1955. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000011.

Pamphlet from the Central Illinois Light Co., July 1955. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000011.

Photograph of Reddy Kilowatt (made of heavy copper), circa 1937. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000004.

Photograph of Reddy Kilowatt (made of heavy copper), circa 1937. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000004.

Reddy was the brainchild in 1925 of Ashton B. Collins (1885-1976), then commercial manager at the Alabama Power Company. The company was looking for a way to humanize electric service and Collins knew the figure needed to be appealing, clever, and able to tell the story of electricity easily. Through the talents of a company artist, D.J. Clinton, Collins’ vision of Reddy came to life. Collins copyrighted Reddy on March 6, 1926, and he debuted in a full page advertisement for the Alabama Power Company in the Birmingham News on March 14, 1926, and at the 1926 Alabama Electrical Exposition.

Image of Ashton Collins in NSP News, September 1962. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000003.

Image of Ashton Collins in NSP News, September 1962. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000003.

Letterhead of Ashton B. Collins, April 17, 1948. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000005.

Letterhead of Ashton B. Collins, April 17, 1948. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000005.

Collins worked tirelessly to develop Reddy into a comprehensive plan. By 1934 the company had launched the “Reddy Kilowatt Program,” targeted at investor-owned electric utilities. Collins wanted electric utilities to urge their customers to go “all” electric, using Reddy as the “pitchman.” The program included the use of trademarks and copyrights through the Reddy Kilowatt Service (clip art) and the Reddy News, which were sent to licensee companies to provide ideas about ways to use the Reddy Kilowatt trademark. The Philadelphia Electric Company was the first to adopt the program in January 1934. Other companies later joined, growing to almost 150 investor-owned electric utilities in the United States and in at least twelve foreign countries.Today, Reddy Kilowatt® and Reddy® are registered trademarks and service marks under Xcel Energy, Inc.

United States Trademark 302,093 for The Electrical Servant, March 28, 1933. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000008.

United States Trademark 302,093 for The Electrical Servant, March 28, 1933. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000008.

Valuable Trade Marks from The Master Link, Power Company Customers, 1944. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000009.

Valuable Trade Marks from The Master Link, Power Company Customers, 1944. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000009.

According to company literature, “Reddy was a cheerful, willing, and able servant.”  Indeed, Reddy was “readily” available in homes, stores, businesses, and on farms across the United States. He was later adopted in other countries such as Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and the Philippines. In Brazil Reddy was known as “Zet” or “Joe” Kilowatt and in Portugal he was called “Faisca” or “Sparky” Kilowatt. But Reddy also provided benefits to the utility companies who adopted his program. He was able to explain the policies, programs, and service of the electric utility to its customers.  

Advertisement reprint from Electrical World, May 20, 1957. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000007.

Advertisement reprint from Electrical World, May 20, 1957. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000007.

Booklet, At the Flick of a Switch, Interstate Power Company, circa 1946. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000010.

Booklet, At the Flick of a Switch, Interstate Power Company, circa 1946. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000010.

Reddy had some competition, though, from Willie Wiredhand, an advertising trademark character developed in 1951 by Andrew McLay during a national contest sponsored by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). Willie became an official service mark on April 24, 1952, promoting and endorsing consumer-owned electric cooperatives. On August 7, 1953, Reddy sued Willie.Reddy felt Willie “was confusingly similar in appearance,” but a judge decided that the trademarks were not in competition so Reddy had to share the electric limelight.

Willie Wiredhand advertisement for Sylvania light bulbs, Rural Electrification Magazine, No. 12, September 1957. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000012.

Willie Wiredhand advertisement for Sylvania light bulbs, Rural Electrification Magazine, No. 12, September 1957. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000012.

Exhibit from Reddy Kilowatt, Inc. (opposer) v. National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (applicant), August 1953. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000013.

Exhibit from Reddy Kilowatt, Inc. (opposer) v. National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (applicant), August 1953. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000013.

United States Patent Office, service mark for Willie Wiredhand, June 9, 1953. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000014.

United States Patent Office, service mark for Willie Wiredhand, June 9, 1953. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000014.

The personification of Reddy Kilowatt dominates the clip art, ephemera, and copyrights and trademarks the company obtained. He appeared on almost everything—matchbooks, pins, aprons, balloons, puzzles, books, novelty pieces, slides, films, trophies, posters, advertisements, and electric bills. It was the electric bill where Reddy was most visible, converting kilowatt-hours into servant hours. And consumers knew what a watt was worth:a section of the bill held a message from Reddy listing his monthly wages. Funny thing, they always equaled the amount of the bill.

Brockton Edison Company electric bill, circa 1956. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000006-02.

Brockton Edison Company electric bill, circa 1956. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000006-02.

Brockton Edison Company electric bill, circa 1956. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000006-01.

Brockton Edison Company electric bill, circa 1956. Source: NMAH Archives Center, AC0913-0000006-01.

To learn more about his service and the visually rich historic record documenting his electrifying life, visit the Archives Center and the Reddy Kilowatt Records. Other electronic-related collections that complement Reddy include: Louisan E. Mamer  Rural Electrification Administration PapersElectricity  series, Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, Charles Came Collection, and the General Electric NELA Park Collection to name a few.