Updated 18-I-2020

Mattoon Lamp Plant

The Mattoon Lamp Plant was opened in 1946 and produced a broad variety of special lamp types for industrial, photographic and projection applications. This included tungsten halogen lamps, which later grew to large volumes for use in general accent and display lighting. The factory once employed as many as 1800 people and produced some of GE's highest technology lamps, but in the early 2000s these were gradually replaced by energy-saving discharge and LED types and the remaining halogen lamps became low-cost commodities. This sadly brought Mattoon's seven decades of lampmaking to a close in 2017.

The General Electric Mattoon Lamp Plant

Address GE Mattoon Lamp Plant #3341, 1501 South 19th Street, Mattoon, Illinois 61938-5956, U.S.A.
Location 39.4699°N, -88.3803°E.
Opened 1946.
Closed 2017.
Floorspace Unknown.
Products Fluorescent Lamps, Incandescent General Service high wattage, Lumiline, Medium & Mogul Bi-Post, 4-pin valve base projectors, Tungsten Halogen Linear, Capsules, Infrared, Projection, Studio/Theatre, Photoflash.

Fluorescent Lamps
Two references cite that the Mattoon Lamp Plant was constructed in 1946, and was scheduled for opening in July of that year with approximately 600 employees to produce fluorescent lamps 1,2. It is not known for how long that situation existed or indeed if the fluorescent production was actually started, because just two years later GE opened another considerably larger fluorescent plant at Circleville (OH). In any case, Mattoon quickly assumed a different role in manufacturing specialty incandescent and photographic lamps.

Incandescent Lamps
Many of the lamps that have been identified from Mattoon are either very high or very low wattage types that fall outside the standard mass-produced range. For instance, general service lamps in large bulbs of 300W and upwards, and miniature types such as the S-11 and C-7 indicator and nightlight bulbs.

Mattoon also took on the production of lamp types having unusual glass constructions and non-standard glass-to-metal seals. At least as early as 1960 it was home to the production of the company's Lumiline incandescent lamps, which feature a tubular bulb closed by a pair of chromium-iron discs fused to the ends of the tube.

Following the 1961 closure of the East Cleveland Lamp Works situated within GE's Nela Park headquarters, all of the projection and photographic lamps having conventional glass stem and drop-seal constructions with ordinary brass collar bases were relocated to the Bellevue Lamp Plant, along with tungsten halogen and photo flashtubes. Mattoon took on the rest of the incandescent projectors having 4-pin valve bases, and the large high power lamps having Medium & Mogul Bi-Post bases.

During 1997/98 GE decided that Mattoon should focus on the high volume production of tungsten halogen lamps for general lighting service, and that the Medium & Mogul Bi-Post lamps should be relocated to the former factory of Thorn Lighting at Leicester in the UK, which GE had taken over in 1991. That factory operated a powerful department for the manufacture of all kinds of photographic, projection, studio and theatre lamps. and it made sense to combine all worldwide production of those types into the same facility.

A few years later the 4-pin Valve-base projectors and Lumiline incandescent lamps were relocated to Mexico, and this appears to have marked the end of incandescent lampmaking at Mattoon. It is not known when the production of the non-standard incandescent lamps for general lighting service lamps at Mattoon was stopped, but these are believed to have been relocated to other USA factories much earlier.

Quartz Halogen Lamps
Following the closure of the Bellevue Lamp Plant in 1985, Mattoon grew significantly by absorbing the Quartzline tungsten halogen production for both general lighting as well as photgraphic and projection applications. The latter product range was significantly broedened at Mattoon and it became GE's principal plant for the production of specialty high wattage Stage, Studio, Theatre and Television halogen lamps. However along with the medium and mogul bi-post range, all single ended types were relocated to Leicester in 1998.

One of the other products absorbed from Bellevue was the company's new MR16 Precise halogen range - a spinoff of the Quartzline MR16 projection lamps which GE had re-positioned in 1981 to enter the new application of high value interior accent & display spotlighting. At the time of their transfer to Mattoon these lamps were still very new and not yet widely adopted, but the later 1980s saw an enormous boom in their popularity. During the following decade it became almost impossible to walk along any major shopping district in the western hemisphere without encountering a myriad of these sparkling new lamps illuminating shop windows, and the GE products held the reputation of being the original and best. The production at Mattoon grew tremendously during this period and it became one of GE's richer lamp plants, attracting significant investment in the further development of the MR16 Precise range.

Glass Halogen Lamps
Another new product developed at Mattoon was GE's line voltage glass halogen technology for general lighting lamps. This followed Sylvania's pioneering development of the early 1970s which allowed lamp manufacturers to produce halogen lamps using hard glass envelopes instead of the usual quartz. Halogen lamps can only be manufactured using materials that are exceptionally dry and have very low content of OH- hydroxyl ions. Initially only quartz was suitable, but Sylvania developed a technique that allowed the use of aluminosilicate hard glasses. That material had the major advantage of being considerably cheaper, and could be processed more easily and at higher production speeds on automatic lampmaking machinery thanks to its simpler glass-to-metal seals. Both manufacturers were quick to exploit the virtues of glass halogen technology, at first for miniature and automotive lamps.

In 1982 hard glass halogen technology was applied to mains voltage lamps. GE's first venture in this direction was built around its famous GH90 capsule - a single-ended aluminosilicate tube containing an axial coiled-coil filament rated 90W at 120V. Aside from the new processing technology to produce lamps using aluminosilicate envelopes, GE excelled in its advancement of tungsten metallurgy during this period and succeeded to develop the first lamps having an unsupported and substantially sag-resistant filament. The GH90 capsules from Mattoon were first employed in PAR38 reflector lamps, presumably assembled at either GE's Ohio Lamp Plant or the Lexington Lamp Plant. The first versions were launched under the trade name "Watt Miser II". The original PAR38 incandescent lamps were rated 150W, and in 1981 were joined by the"Watt Miser" 120W version which attained a power saving thanks to the development of a more optically advanced reflector. The halogen Watt-Miser II brought the power consumption down again to just 90W, and doubled the lifetime. This major advancement was achieved thanks to the superior performance of the inner halogen capsule and still further improved optical control due to its axial filament. In 1987 the Watt-Miser II range was re-named "Halogen Performance Plus", and was subsequently extended with smaller PAR30 and PAR20 lamps to replace the lower power incandescent blow reflector types. Mattoon's output of GH capsules grew significantly during this period.

In 1987 GE applied the same GH90 and a smaller GH51 capsule to its newly launched A-Line Performance-Plus halogen retrofit lamps. These were developed to upgrade the performance of ordinary A-line incandescent lamps and consisted of a 51W or 90W single-ended glass-halogen capsule within a heavy-walled outer bulb. The latter was essential for safety reasons, since the inner glass halogen capsules sometimes shattered at end of life. The new lamps were given the TB-19 bulb shape to impart a high-tech new appearance, its design clearly having been inspired by GE's Electronic Halarc compact metal halide lamps that the company had tried without success to introduce a few years earlier. The halogen lamps were however a commercial success due to their considerably lower cost. They offered extended lifetime of 2000 hours and 10-15% energy saving vs ordinary incandescent lamps, without loss of light output.

In 2013 GE made a major investment in its North American manufacturing operations, with the decision to mass produce halogen energy-saving A-line lamps in the USA. These were based on an improved design of single-ended hardglass halogen capsule which was rendered explosion-free, thanks to the incorporation of a fuse. This enabled the expensive heavy-walled glass bulb to be replaced with an ordinary soft-glass A19 bulb shell for improved consumer appearance and dramatically reduced cost. Mattoon received investment of around US$ 10 million to build additional capacity for the manufacture of the inner hardglass halogen capsules, which were initially sent to GE's lamp plants in Mexico for finishing into A-line medium based lamps. A year later in 2014 the lamps became fully American-made when finishing into A-line envelopes was transferred from Mexico to GE's other USA plants at Circleville and Bucyrus.

In the early 2000s Mattoon's principal product lines were its glass halogen inner capsules for supply to other lamp assembly facilities, and the MR16 and MR11 axial reflector ranges which were used primarily for general lighting applications along with some specialty projection niches. Regrettably both of these product families came under increasing pressure after the early 2010s.

The PAR halogen lamps were energy-hungry sources widely used in retail accent and display lighting, and rising energy costs as well as the technical superiority of new developments in ceramic metal halide lamps saw the gradual phase-out of these types. This led to the closure of one of Mattoon's principal customers, the Lexington Lamp Plant, in 2013.

The MR16 range then came under intense pressure from increasingly competitive LED alternatives, as well as stiff price competition from low cost Chinese imports of considerably inferior quality. For a number of years GE positioned its American-made Precise MR16 range as the top performing products which were sold only to premium customers willing to pay the higher prices for the industry-leading performance, but over the years that portion of the market gradually dwindled towards zero - these customers of course being among the first to invest in the newer LED technology. As a result this department at Mattoon was running significantly under its capacity.

Thirdly, the venture to produce energy-saving A-Line lamps in the USA was coming under increasing pressure. On the one hand, 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 was sharply increasing. Additionally, the glass halogen technology which had once been a cost leader, was gradually losing its competitive advantage. That was largely due to the fact that the necessary glass tubing was produced only by GE itself along with Schott glass of Germany, while most of the world's other lampmakers had remained with quartz technology and the far greater manufacturing base for that material eventually allowed its costs to undercut that of the hard glass halogen technology.

On 11th August 2016 GE announced that Mattoon was operating at 60% below capacity and economically no longer viable to remain in production, and that it planned to close the site one year later. The factory had been due to celebrate its 70th anniversary - but due to the impending closure, that was delayed into its 71st year when an open day was held for all present and past employees. Production finally came to a close on 11th August 2017, when the remaining 133 employees lost their jobs. In parallel another of Mattoon's internal customers, the Circleville lamp assembly plant was closed, but Bucyrus remained open and switched to sourcing imported quartz halogen capsules for the continued assembly of American Halogen A-line lamps.

Photographs - General
Mattoon Lamp Plant, c. 1940-50s Mattoon Lamp Plant Mattoon Lamp Plant, 2017 Mattoon Lamp Plant, 2018
Mattoon Lamp Plant Entrance Mattoon Lamp Plant Entrance, 2017 Open House 2017 - Mirror Lamps Open House 2017 - Bi-Post Lamps

Photographs - Glass Halogen
Glass Halogen Mount Mill, 2013 Glass Halogen Mount, 2013 Glass Halogen Pinch m/c, 2014 Glass Halogen Pinch m/c, 2014
Glass Halogen Pinch Detail, 2014 Glass Halogen Pinch Detail, 2014 Glass Halogen Pinch Detail, 2014 Glass Halogen Inspection, 2014

Photographs - Medium & Mogul Bi-Post
Medium Bipost Cup Preheat Medium Bipost Cup Preheat Medium Bipost Post Inserting Medium Bipost Post Inserting
Medium Bipost Post Inserting Medium Bipost Stem Inspection E2 m/c - Glass Cane Cutting Filament Supports Bridgemaking
Medium Bipost Mounts Medium Bipost Mounting Medium Bipost Filament Welding Medium Bipost Mount Flashing
Medium Bipost Getter Painting Medium Bipost Sealing Medium Bipost Sealing Medium Bipost Sealing
Medium Bipost Sealing Medium Bipost Sealing Medium Bipost Sealing Medium Bipost Pre-Exhaust
Medium Bipost Pre-Exhaust Medium Bipost Pre-Exhaust Medium Bipost Exhaust Medium Bipost Exhaust
Medium Bipost Exhaust Medium Bipost Exhaust Medium Bipost Tip-off Medium Bipost Tip-off
Medium Bipost Ageing Mogul Bipost E3 Flare m/c Mogul Bipost E3 Flare m/c Mogul Bipost Thimble Beading
Mogul Bipost Thimble Beading Mogul Bipost Cup Preheat Mogul Bipost Post Inserting Mogul Bipost Post Inserting
Mogul Bipost Mounting Mogul Bipost Mounting Mogul Bipost Mounting Mogul Bipost Mounting
Mogul Bipost Sealing Bipost Lamp Testing Bipost Lamp Inspection Bipost Lamp Packing

Factory Movies
Commemorative DVD 1946-2017 Pt.1 Commemorative DVD 1946-2017 Pt.2

Examples of Mattoon Lamps
Lumiline Incandescent Halogen A-Line TB19 Air Beacon MS-25015-2 Lighthouse Q1000T20BP Studio Q750T20-4CL Studio Q2000T11-4CL
Infrared Brooder 250W Infrared Drying 500W Photomicrographic Arc

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. GE to build Fluorescent Lamp Plant in Mattoon IL, Employment Service Review Journal of the US Department of Labor, Vol.13 No.1. January 1946.
  3. Mr. Mattoon's City, The Story of Mattoon 1855-1955, publ. The National Bank of Mattoon, 1955.
  4. GE to Close Mattoon Lamp Plant by August 2017, Gene J. Pusakar, Will Illinois Public Media, 12 Aug 2016.
  5. General Electric Plant holds Open House before Closure, AP News, 14 Jun 2017.
  6. Mattoon's GE Lighting Plant to have its Final Day of Production, Brendan Bakala, Illinois Policy, 09 Aug 2017.
  7. 71-Year-Old GE Factory in Mattoon to Close this Friday, WGIL News, 10th August 2017.
  8. GE Mattoon Lamp Plant Open House, Jarad Jarmon, JG-TC News, 11 Jun 2017
  9. Coles County Historical Society exhibit focuses on businesses with half-century of history, Dave Fopay, JG-TC News, 20 May 2018.