Updated 14-XII-2019

Circleville Lamp Plant

Introduction
Circleville Lamp Plant was opened in 1948 to provide extra capacity for GE's rapidly expanding fluorescent business. It soon became the company's principal fluorescent plant, and manufactured a wide range of special tubes. In 2014 it took on the additional responsibility of making halogen soft-white lamps in ordinary A19 bulbs following the closure of GE's last incandescent lamp plant in the USA. For a few years it seemed as though Circleville would be assured of a strong future, however the gradual migration away from halogen towards LED sources, and the obsolescence of many of its special fluorescent lamps led to its closure in 2017.

Aerial View of GE Circleville Lamp Plant just after closure, 2018

Address GE Circleville Lamp Plant #5454, 559 East Ohio Street, Circleville, OH 43113, U.S.A.
Location 39.5910°N, -82.9347°E.
Opened 1948.
Closed 11th August 2017.
Floorspace Unknown.
Products Linear Fluorescent T5, T8, T10, T12, T17, PowerGroove, Circline, Mod-U-Line, Biax L High Lumen, A19 Halogen Soft White


Fluorescent Manufacturing
The Circleville Lamp Plant was GE's fourth and final fluorescent factory to have been built in the USA. The other three fluorescent plants were hastily opened soon after the invention of that light source in 1938 - first within the Nela Park headquarters at Cleveland (OH), then with a new factory being opened at Jackson (MI) in 1940, and another being built on the site of the former Bucyrus (OH) lamp glass factory. Demand continued to rise, which led to the construction of a vast new dedicated facility optimised for high volume linear fluorescent production, at Circleville (OH), in 1947. Production trials began a year later on 1st September 1948, with the first lamps being shipped out on Christmas Eve.

For many years Circleville was the most diverse of all the fluorescent factories. It produced a vast range of different types and many of the specials - such as non-standard lengths and colours, special diameters, slimline, high and very output types, circline and U-tubes, and the unique GE PowerGroove lamps. Indeed, its first products were the longest 6 foot and 8 foot tubes, which could not be produced on the equipment available at the other plants.

In 1979 GE purchased production machinery from its old associate company, Hitachi of Japan, for the fully mechanised production of Circline lamps. Even though the Circline lamp was invented by GE, its primary market evolved in Japan and the local manufacturers there soon developed their own better and faster production machines - such as the so-called Bendex machine which bends and exhausts the tubes in a single operation. This equipment became Circleville's first fully integrated manufacturing group, with an annual production of around 4 million lamps in 1998.

Over time the bulk of GE's fluorescent production migrated into Circleville - with Bucyrus running the very high speed lines for mass produced standard types, and Circleville producing the rest. The Nela Park facility was maintained as a sort of pilot plant into the late 1990s for the development and production of new or special types, while Jackson was gradually wound down and closed in 1985. In 1998 the following production groups were running at Circleville:

Group 5 Circline
Group 10 Linear
Group 12 Linear
Group 14 Linear
Group 15 Linear medium-speed 3200/hr F96T12 Slimline
Group 16 Linear
Group 17 Linear
Group 18 Mod-U-Line wide leg
Group 21 Mod-U-Line narrow leg
Group 24 Linear
Group 26 Linear slow-speed T12 short
Biax
High Lumen Biax, 1050/hr
Central Coating Department - 8 downflush and 6 upflush lines
Coiling
Flares
Basefilling

Halogen Expansion
In the early 2000s many lamp manufacturers around the world began to introduce halogen energy saving alternatives to ordinary incandescent lamps. On account of the lower energy prices and reduced state incentives this trend took several years longer to migrate to the USA, but by 2013 it was clear to GE's management that there was considerable business potential for the new lamps. In parallel it was a lamp whose production could relatively easily be almost fully mechanised, the resulting low labour costs facilitating local manufacturing within the USA.

Around this time GE had just announced the intended closure of its last North American incandescent production at the Ohio Lamp Plant in Warren, OH. However early in these negotiations, GE proposed to save the factory by replacing the obsolete incandescent production with state-of-the-art new facilities for the production of new halogen A-line energy saving lamps. The plan was most remarkably rejected by the union. Ohio Lamp Plant had a majority of older employees close to pension age, and they callously voted to in favour of closing the plant entirely so as to receive their own rather generous redundancy payments - while robbing their younger colleagues of continued employment and leading to the closure of that factory.

GE then turned its attention to its other remaining lamp plants in the USA and proved that its promises of investment in the new lamps were true. It had already been decided that the inner halogen capsules would be produced at that company's Mattoon Lamp Plant in Illinois, and for the final assembly of these capsules into soft glass A-line bulbs it was eventually decided to split the production between its two fluorescent plants - at Circleville and Bucyrus. The total $ 30 million investment created about 100 new jobs between the three plants.

In 2014 the new equipment was moved in to Circleville, marking the first investment in the plant for over a decade and creating about 50 new jobs and bringing the workforce up to 214. That autumn production commenced and from the outset it was a tremendous success. The Made-in-USA credentials proved popular with retailers and the country's giant Wal-Mart chain replaced its existing stocks with GE's new all-American halogen lamps.


Decline and Closure
The halogen success unfortunately proved to be short-lived. On the one side, federal energy policies were moving towards an enforced phase-out of these lamps so as to attain the still greater energy savings possible with compact fluorescent and LED alternatives - and on the other side foreign competition for both these as well as the halogen types was sharply increasing which put the local assembly under pressure. By 2016 it became clear that the manufacturing of these lamps at two sites in the USA was unsustainable. In parallel the required volume of fluorescent lamps began sharply declining, also due to increased market pressures from LED alternatives, which led to a rapidly declining fluorescent market share. Circleville could no longer rely on its core fluorescent products to deliver the necessary work to remain open.

In April 2017 GE declared that Circleville was operating at 90% below its capacity, and that production would be terminated later that year. The factory was closed very quickly on 11th August 2017, with part of its volume being absorbed by the Bucyrus Lamp Plant in Ohio. At this time many of the special fluorescent lamps formerly made at Circleville were simply discontinued, their volume being far too small to justify the investments that would have been required to transfer production to another site. As a result, GE's fluorescent lamp portfolio underwent a very significant rationalisation in 2017.


Photographs
First Production Hall, 1951 Entrance Building, 2017 Entrance Building Aerial View, 2018
Halogen Soft White A19 Sealex, 2014 Halogen Soft White A19 Basing, 2014 Halogen Soft White A19 Basing, 2016 Plant Layout

Factory Movies
50th Anniversary, 1998 Soft White Halogen, 2014 CLP Safety Introduction for Visitors


Examples of Circleville Lamps
WattMiser F90T17-CW PowerGroove F96PG17


References & Bibliography
  1. A Century of Light, James A. Cox, published by The Benjamin Company / Rutgers, 1979, ISBN 0-87502-062-3, p.86.
  2. Circleville Plant Adds 50 More Jobs, Kristy Murphy, The Circleville Herald, 23 Aug 2013.
  3. Recent Growth should help lessen impact of GE plant closure, The Scioto Post, 08 Nov 2016.
  4. GE Lighting to Close Plant in Circleville, Dan Gearino, The Columbus Dispatch, 13 Apr 2017. Factory Movie of 50th Anniversary 1948-1998