The story of Lutron, a people-driven and technology-centered company, began in the makeshift lab of Joel Spira, in New York City, in the late 1950s. Spira was a young physicist, and he found the manipulation of light fascinating. He shared an apartment with his wife and decided to turn the spare bedroom into a place where he could invent a device that would allow people to manipulate the intensity of the lights inside their home, while not disregarding home safety.
At the time, the idea was considered extreme, due to the fact that controlling lighting required rheostats that needed too much energy, and produced a lot of heat. This sort of setup was only used to dim the stage lights found in theaters. People didn’t think they would be able to have this in their homes because they were way too difficult for a regular person to install and didn’t encourage home safety.
In 1959, Spira changed that forever – coming out of his lab with a solid-state dimmer that could fit in a residential wall box and replace the light switch. The key technical innovation was using a thyristor to replace the bulky rheostat, which had been invented only a few years earlier.
Thyristors worked differently than rheostats, and they were perfectly suited to what Spira needed. Rheostats dimmed light by absorbing part of their electrical energy inside them and converting it to heat instead of light in the lamp. Thyristors simply manipulated the power flowing to the lamp and gave the same effect with much more convenience.
This meant that the dimmers that used a thyristor were so small they could fit into a standard wall box which was found in every regular home. Plus, Spira’s new dimmer used only a fraction of the energy of the rheostat-based ones and didn’t generate nearly as much heat.
Joel and Ruth Spira incorporated Lutron Electronics in 1961, and by then they already knew that enabling lighting control to the regular people would be a major contribution to the society. They kept in mind home safety, and gave people a device that could be both elegant and useful, and gave people the freedom of controlling the intensity of their lights they never had before in such a small product. The dimmers they invented were also practical since they saved more energy the more you used them, which was a key factor in their success.This came at a time when the cost of energy was going up rapidly. This invention can still be found on a number of walls in homes all over the world, and it definitely marked the birth of the industry of home control.
At the moment, Lutron Electronics has more than 2,700 patents worldwide, and their innovations have expanded to the first self-contained lighting control system, as well as the first electronic dimming ballast made for fluorescent lights. They were the first to mass-market the dimmer with major success all over the world, and they are the only company that makes dimmer systems, as well as window shades that are able to control both daylight, as well as electric light.