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Episode 902: The Phoebus Cartel

circa 1955: An ordinary electric lightbulb seems to explode on contact when it is dropped from a height of six feet. (Photo by Al Barry/Three Lions/Getty Images)

We made this episode with our neighbors at Throughline, the new NPR history podcast about moments from the past that shape our present.

In the 1990s, Markus Krajewski and a group of his friends became obsessed with a novel that includes the story of a lightbulb. It's a special lightbulb—one that burns forever—and there's a group of lightbulb manufacturers who want to destroy it. The thing that Markus and his friends wanted to know was: Could any of this be real?

Today on the show, we trace Markus's journey to uncover the truth. We meet a lightbulb in California that's been burning for more than 100 years. We learn about a 1920s global conspiracy to break the lightbulb—to get the average bulb to burn for about 1,000 fewer hours. And we discover how the forces of planned and psychological obsolescence touch products way beyond the lightbulb.

It's a story about the shadowy forces that drive us, to this day, to buy more products, more often.

Music by Drop Electric.

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