1940s Upcycling

British Thomson-Houston (BTH) tungsten filaments

These small glass light bulbs were made at Mazda lamp works in Rugby. They were subsequently hand painted and used as Christmas decorations by the mother of the person who donated them to the museum. On one of the bulbs the message ‘A Happy Xmas to You All, 1947’ has been painted.

British Thomson-Houston (BTH) obtained the General Electric patents for tungsten filaments, and the Mazda trademark, in 1911. After this, BTH bulbs and lanterns were sold under the Mazda brand.

The name Mazda came from Persian mythology where it signified the god or principal of light.

This deal coincided with manufacturing developments. Bulbs had previously been extremely fragile and were difficult to transport without many breakages. The development of tungsten filaments allowed for much more robust bulbs and a dramatic change to the economics of electric lighting.

 The BTH works in Rugby were originally designed for the employment of 800 people, but through a series of expansions (including a larger lamp works in the 1930s), during Second World War they were employing around 17,000 local people.

1947 had been another tough year of austerity in post war Britain. Food rationing had been around since 1940 and by 1947 even staples such as bread, potatoes and meat were rationed. Long queues outside shops were a common sight.

Very little Christmas decorations would’ve been available to buy in the shops. With the necessity to ‘make do and mend’ people made paper chains out of old newspapers or repurposed household items in ingenious ways, such as these decorative bulbs.  


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