Updated 13-XI-2018

Matthew Luckiesh

This article was written by fellow lamp engineer and collector Edward J. Covington, and originally appeared on his own website of biographical sketches of persons involved in the lamp industry. Following his passing in February 2017, and with kind permission of his family, Ed's words have been preserved here in the hope of maintaining access to his writings for the benefit of subsequent generations.

Matthew Luckiesh speaking at a conference in 1940

Many collectors of early incandescent lamps in the United States concentrate on Edison lamps when they first start looking for vestiges of our lighting heritage. That is certainly understandable. However, the appearance of later lamp designs also carry with them interesting stories. One person who was involved with the introduction of new lamp types will be considered here; that person was Matthew Luckiesh.

In general, Matthew Luckiesh was interested in determining the conditions under which the best visibility was achieved. It was through scientific studies of the relationship between light and seeing that certain lamp types were designed. We shall look briefly at some of his achievements.

Matthew Luckiesh was born in Maquoketa, Iowa in 1883. After attending universities in Iowa he started to work for the National Electric Lamp Association in Cleveland in 1910. The results of his work were chronicled in 11 U.S. patents, 28 books and about 860 scientific and technical articles, published between the years 1911 and 1960.

One of the "early" lamps, that can still be found, has a coiled tungsten filament in it and the glass, while transparent, is blue. This lamp was the result of an attempt to develop one that approximated average daylight in its color characteristic. These lamps were used in department stores and in other industries where it was important to determine accurate discrimination of the colors of objects. These were referred to as MAZDA Daylight Lamps.

Another lamp attributed to Luckiesh was the MAZDA Flametint Lamp. The thought behind this lamp was to create mood rather than adequate light for serious seeing. The lamp was designed to resemble the color of licking flames. They were often used in wall fixtures in hallways. In 1927 about 25-35% of all lamps sold were of that design. In 1929 sales totaled about 13 million.

Luckiesh was also involved in the development of White MAZDA lamps, colored lamps, the MAZDA Photographic Lamp and White Bowl lamps. The last product attributed to him was a lamp designed to be used base-up in ceiling fixtures. The bulb end was hemispherical in shape and was enameled to produce a soft-tone effect. It was made available to the public about 1949-50 and was known as the 50-GA lamp.

In 1933, the lighting in the private and executive quarters of the President of the United States was found to be wholly inadequate. Luckiesh studied the situation, and after about two hours, had specified new lighting arrangements for the White House. The light levels were increased 25 to 50 times their original values. An IES lamp was recommended for use on the desk of President Roosevelt.

Because of Luckiesh's lighting knowledge and the successful White House lighting he prescribed, President Roosevelt asked Luckiesh if he would also evaluate the lighting in the midshipmen's study rooms at the U. S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. The inadequate lighting there was revealed in the statistics of the time. In the class of 1934, 464 students reached graduation out of a starting number of 647. Of the 464 members, 12.7% were rejected because of defective vision, even though all 647 originally passed with adequate eyesight when they entered the Academy. The lighting was changed; the new IES portable lamps were recommended. Many universities were quick to follow.

Luckiesh's writing output and presentations were exceptional and he was known as the "Father of the Science of Seeing." He passed away in 1967.

  1. "A Man from Maquoketa - A Biography of Matthew Luckiesh", E.J. Covington, Printed by Graphic Communications Operation, GE Lighting, Nela Park, E. Cleveland, Ohio, 1992.