The History of Planned Obsolescence

On December 23, 1924, a group of international businessmen gathered in Geneva for a meeting that would change the world for decades. Delegates from all major lightbulb manufacturers were present, including the Netherlands’ Philips and the United States’ General Electric. While revellers celebrated Christmas elsewhere in the city, the group founded the Phoebus cartel, a supervisory body that would carve up the global incandescent lightbulb market.

Though the cartel’s control of the market lasted only into the 1930s, its enduring legacy was to devise a shorter life span for lightbulbs. By early 1925, this was codified at 1,000 hours, a huge reduction from the 1,500 to 2,000 hours which had previously been common. To justify their decision, the cartel stated their approach was a trade-off: lightbulbs would break more often, but they would be of higher quality, more efficient, and burn brighter. They would also cost a lot more. In purposefully creating a lightbulb with a shorter life span, the cartel devised the industrial strategy known as planned obsolescence.

With many countries phasing out incandescent lighting in favor of more-efficient, pricier LEDs, the story of the Phoebus cartel is worth revisiting. It teaches us that every convenience comes with a cost, be it monetary or material.

Can you think of any modern examples of planned obsolescence? Do Homework
Why do companies or groups, like the Phoebus cartel, create products with finite lifespans? Do Homework
What are 3 problems that planned obsolescence presents? Do Homework
Instead of planned obsolescence, what strategies can companies implement to ensure that customers return to buy their products? Do Homework