LEDs: The Little Light-Emitting Diodes That Could

This isn’t your grandparent’s holiday lighting! Long passed are the days of the large, old-fashioned colored light bulbs

Old-Fashioned Christmas Lights








and liquid-filled Bubble Lights

Bubble Lights

Today, most of our holidays are aglow with the energy-saving, cost-effective light-emitting diode, aka the LED.

Well, that doesn’t sound very festive at all, does it! But luckily holiday lights are better seen than explained. Without going too in-depth about the inner workings of the LED, these ubiquitous little dazzlers offer the most bang for the buck.

 Let’s talk a little history. Here’s a brief LED timeline as provided by Wikipedia:

  1. Electroluminescence was discovered in 1907 by the British experimenter H. J. Round of Marconi Labs, using a crystal of silicon carbide and a cat’s-whisker detector.
  2. Russian Oleg Vladimirovich Losev independently reported on the creation of an LED in 1927. His research was distributed in Russian, German and British scientific journals, but no practical use was made of the discovery for several decades.
  3. Rubin Braunstein of the Radio Corporation of America reported on infrared emission from gallium arsenide (GaAs) and other semiconductor alloys in 1955. Braunstein observed infrared emission generated by simple diode structures using gallium antimonide (GaSb), GaAs, indium phosphide (InP), and silicon-germanium (SiGe) alloys at room temperature and at 77 kelvin.
  4. In 1961, experimenters Robert Biard and Gary Pittman working at Texas Instruments, found that GaAs emitted infrared radiation when electric current was applied and received the patent for the infrared LED.
  5. The first practical visible-spectrum (red) LED was developed in 1962 by Nick Holonyak Jr., while working at General Electric Company. Holonyak is seen as the “father of the light-emitting diode”.

Interesting, no? So this has been brewing since 1907. Who knew? And just a short century later, the LED is everywhere, infiltrating and illuminating everything from your hand-held calculator to your laptop’s backlighting and, of course, the grandest of holiday lighting.

What has the advent of the LED meant for the holiday décor business? Endless possibilities! From the small twinkle of pre-lit Christmas trees to the ever-flexible rope light, LEDs have expanded the options available to the decorator in all of us. The adaptability of these lights has led to the creation of some of the most spectacular displays.

Take the New York Cartier flagship store on 5th Avenue. The iconic presentation of the entire store wrapped-up in a neat red bow (the ultimate Christmas gift!) could only have been created with the use of LED lights. In the close-up photo, you can see the “tying” of the bow. Mind these panel-strips are made of hundreds of thousands of red LED lights. Saturation like this could never be achieved with any other kind of lighting without utilizing a global-warming amount of electricity.  

Cartier Flagship on Fifth Avenue

And then there is movement. As an example, these cascading lights have been designed to resemble melting icicles. Programmable to drip slow or fast, designing the holidays has never had such scope and excitement.

So, while LEDs might lack the kitsch of the Bubble Light or even the chunky light bulbs of our parents era, their design possibilities more than make up for their few shortcomings. Only with LEDs could you bring the Milky Way down from the skies to create an amazing tunnel of light!

Nabana no Sato Theme Park in Kuwana Japan


~ by Holiday Image on June 15, 2010.

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