THE COST OF LIVINGby@matthewluckiesh


by Matthew LuckieshApril 30th, 2023
Read on Terminal Reader
Read this story w/o Javascript
tldt arrow

Too Long; Didn't Read

A comparison of the civilization of the present with that of a century ago reveals a startling difference in the standards of living. To-day mankind enjoys conveniences and luxuries that were undreamed of by the past generations. For example, a certain town in Iowa, a score of years ago, was appraised for a bond-issue and it was necessary to extend its limits considerably in order to include a valuation of one half million dollars required by the underwriters. On a summer's evening at the present time a thousand "pleasure" automobiles may be found parked along its streets and these exceed in valuation that of the entire town only twenty years ago and equal it to-day. There are economists who would argue that the automobile has paid for itself by its usefulness, but the fact still exists that a great amount of labor has been diverted from producing food, clothing, and fuel to the production of "pleasure" automobiles. And this is the case with many other conveniences and luxuries. It is admitted that mankind deserves these refinements of modern civilization, but he must expect the cost of living to increase unless counteracting measures are taken.
featured image - THE COST OF LIVING
Matthew Luckiesh HackerNoon profile picture

Artificial Light: Its Influence Upon Civilization by Matthew Luckiesh is part of the HackerNoon Books Series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. THE COST OF LIVING


A comparison of the civilization of the present with that of a century ago reveals a startling difference in the standards of living. To-day mankind enjoys conveniences and luxuries that were undreamed of by the past generations. For example, a certain town in Iowa, a score of years ago, was appraised for a bond-issue and it was necessary to extend its limits considerably in order to include a valuation of one half million dollars required by the underwriters. On a summer's evening at the present time a thousand "pleasure" automobiles may be found parked along its streets and these exceed in valuation that of the entire town only twenty years ago and equal it to-day. There are economists who would argue that the automobile has paid for itself by its usefulness, but the fact still exists that a great amount of labor has been diverted from producing food, clothing, and fuel to the production of "pleasure" automobiles. And this is the case with many other conveniences and luxuries. It is admitted that mankind deserves these refinements of modern civilization, but he must expect the cost of living to increase unless counteracting measures are taken.

The economics of the increasing cost of living and the analysis of the relations of necessities, conveniences, and luxuries are too complex to be thoroughly discussed here. In fact, the most expert economists would disagree on many points. However, it is certain that the cost of living has steadily increased during the past century and it is reasonably certain that the standards of the present civilization are responsible for some if not all of the increase. Increased production is an anchor to the windward. It may drag and give way to some extent, but it will always oppose the course of the cost of living.

When the first industrial plant was lighted by gas, early in the nineteenth century, the aim was merely to reinforce daylight toward the end of the day. Continuous operation of industrial plants was not practised in those days, excepting in a very few cases where it was essential. To-day some industries operate continuously, but most of them do not. In the latter case the consumer pays more for the product because the percentage of fixed or overhead charge is greater. Investment in ground, buildings, and equipment exacts its toll continuously and it is obvious that three successive shifts producing three times as much as a single day shift, or as much as a trebled day shift, will produce the less costly product. In the former case the fixed charge is distributed over the production of continuous operation, but in the latter case the production of a single day shift assumes the entire burden. Of course, there are many factors which enter into such a consideration and an important one is the desirability of working at night. It is not the intention to touch upon the psychological and sociological aspects but merely to look coldly upon the facts pertaining to artificial light and production.


In the first place, it has been proved that in factories proper lighting as obtained by artificial means is generally more satisfactory than the natural lighting. Of course, a narrow building with windows on two sides or a one-story building with a saw-tooth roof of best design may be adequately illuminated by natural light, but these buildings are the exception and they will grow rarer as industrial districts become more congested. Artificial light may be controlled so that light of a satisfactory quality is properly directed and diffused. Sufficient intensities of illumination may be obtained and the failure of artificial light is a remote possibility as compared with the daily failure of natural light. With increasing cost of ground space, factories are built of several stories and with less space given to light courts, with the result that the ratio of window area to that of the floor is reduced. These tendencies militate against satisfactory daylighting. In the smoky congested industrial districts the period of effective daylight is gradually diminishing and artificial lighting is always essential at least as a reinforcement for daylight. It has been proved that proper artificial lighting—and there is no excuse for improper artificial lighting—is superior to most interior daylighting conditions.


Although it is difficult to present figures in a brief discussion of this character, it may be stated that, in general, the cost of adequate artificial light is about 2 per cent. of the pay-roll of the workers; about 10 per cent. of the rental charges; and only a fraction of 1 per cent. of the cost of the manufactured products. These figures vary considerably, but they represent conservative average estimates. From these it is seen that artificial lighting is a small factor in adding to the cost of the product. But does artificial lighting add to the cost of a product? Many examples could be cited to prove that proper artificial lighting may be responsible for an actual reduction in the cost of the product.


In a certain plant it was determined that the workmen each lost an appreciable part of an hour per day because of inadequate lighting. A properly designed and maintained lighting-system was installed and the saving in the wages previously lost, more than covered the operating-expense of the artificial lighting. Besides really costing the manufacturer less than nothing, the new artificial lighting system was responsible for better products, decreased spoilage, minimized accidents, and generally elevated spirits of the workmen. In some cases it is only necessary to save one minute per hour per workman to offset entirely the cost of lighting. The foregoing and many other examples illustrate the insignificance of the cost of lighting.

The effectiveness of artificial lighting in reducing the cost of living is easily demonstrated by comparing the output of a factory operating on one and two shifts per day respectively. In a well-lighted factory which operated day and night shifts, the cost of adequate lighting was 7 cents per square foot per year. If this factory, operating only in the daytime, were to maintain the same output, it would be necessary to double its size. In order to show the economic value of artificial lighting it is only necessary to compare the cost of lighting with the rental charge of the addition and of its equipment. A fair rental value for plant and equipment is 50 cents per square foot per year; but of course this varies considerably, depending upon the type of plant and the character of the equipment. An investigation showed that this value varies usually between 30 to 70 cents per square foot per year. Using the mean value, 50 cents, it is seen that the rental charge is about seven times the cost of lighting. Furthermore, there is a saving of 43 cents per square foot per year during the night operation by operating the night shift. Of course, this is not strictly true because a depreciation of machinery during the night shift should be allowed for. These fixed charges would average slightly more than half as much in the case of the two-shift factory as in the case of the same output from a factory twice as large but operating only a day shift. Incidentally, the two-shift factory need not be a hardship for the workers, for, if the eight-hour shifts are properly arranged, the worker on the night shift may be in bed by midnight and the objection to a disturbance of ordinary hours of sleep is virtually eliminated.

In a discussion of light and safety presented in another chapter the startling industrial losses due to accidents are shown to be due partially to inadequate or improper lighting. About one fourth of the total number of accidents may be charged to defective lighting. The consumer bears the burden of the support of an unproducing army of idle men. According to some experts an average of about 150,000 men are continuously idle in this country owing to inadequate and improper lighting.

This is an appreciable factor in the cost of living, but the greatest effectiveness of artificial lighting in curtailing costs is to be found in reducing the fixed charges borne by the product through the operation of two shifts and by directly increasing production owing to improved lighting. The standard of artificial-lighting intensity possessed by the average person at the present time is an inheritance from the past. In those days when artificial light was much more costly than at present the tendency naturally was to use just as little light as necessary. That attitude could not have been severely criticized in those early days of artificial lighting, but it is inexcusable to-day. Eyesight and greater safety from accidents are in themselves valuable enough to warrant adequate lighting, but besides these there is the appeal of increased production.

Outdoors on a clear summer day at noon the intensity of daylight illumination at the earth's surface is about 10,000 foot-candles; in other words, it is equal to the illumination on a surface produced by a light-source equivalent to 10,000 candles at a distance of one foot from the surface. This will be recognized as an enormous intensity of illumination. On a cloudy day the intensity of illumination at the earth's surface may be as high as 3000 foot-candles and on a "gloomy" day the illumination at the earth's surface may be 1000 foot-candles. When it is considered that mankind works under artificial light with an intensity of only a few foot-candles, the marvels of the visual apparatus are apparent. But it should be noted that the eyes of the human race evolved under natural light. They have been used to great intensities when called upon for their greatest efforts. The human being is wonderfully adaptive, but it could scarcely be hoped that the eyes could readjust themselves in a few generations to the changed conditions of low-intensity artificial lighting. There is no complaint against the range of intensities to which the eye responds, for in range of sensibility it is superior to any man-made device.

For extremely low brightnesses another set of physiological processes come into play. Based purely upon the physiological laws of vision it seems reasonable to conclude that mankind should not work under artificial illumination as low as has been considered necessary owing to the cost in the past. With this principle of vision as a foundation, experiments have been made with greater intensities of illumination in the industries and elsewhere and increased production has been the result. In a test in a factory where an adequate record of production was in effect it was found that an increase in the intensity of illumination from 4 to 12 foot-candles increased the production in various operations. The lowest increase in production was 8 per cent., the highest was 27 per cent., and the average was 15 per cent. The original lighting in this case was better than that of the typical industrial conditions, so that it seems reasonable to expect a greater increase in production when a change is made from the average inadequate lighting of a factory to a well-designed lighting-system giving a high intensity of illumination.

In another test the production under a poor system of lighting by means of bare lamps on drop-cords was compared with that of an excellent system in which well-designed reflectors were used. The intensity of illumination in the latter case was twenty-five times that of the former and the production was increased in various operations from 30 per cent. for the least increase to 100 per cent. for the greatest increase. Inasmuch as the energy consumption in the latter case was increased seven times and the illumination twenty-five times, it is seen that the increase in intensity of illumination was due largely to the use of proper reflectors and to the general layout of the new lighting-system.

In another case a 10 per cent. increase in production was obtained by increasing the intensity of illumination from 3 foot-candles to about 12 foot-candles. This increase of four times in the intensity of illumination involved an increase in consumption of electrical energy of three times the original amount at an increase in cost equal to 1.2 per cent. of the pay-roll. In another test an increase of 10 per cent. in production was obtained at an increase in cost equal to less than 1 per cent. of the payroll. The efficiency of well-designed lighting installations is illustrated in this case, for the illumination intensity was increased six times by doubling the consumption of electrical energy.

Various other tests could be cited, but these would merely emphasize the same results. However, it may be stated that the factory superintendents involved are convinced that adequate and proper artificial lighting is a great factor in increasing production. Mr. W. A. Durgin, who conducted the tests, has stated that the average result of increasing the intensity of illumination and of properly designing the lighting installations in factories will be at least a 15 per cent. increase in production at an increased cost of not more than 5 per cent. of the pay-roll. This is apparently a conservative statement. When it is considered that generally the cost of lighting is only a fraction of 1 per cent. of the cost of products to the consumer, it is seen that the additional cost of obtaining an increase of 15 per cent. in production is inappreciable.

Industrial superintendents are just beginning to see the advantage of adequate artificial lighting, but the low standards of lighting which were inaugurated when artificial light was much more costly than it is to-day persist tenaciously. When high intensities of proper illumination are once tried, they invariably prove successful in the industries. Not only does the worker see all his operations better, but there appears to be an enlivening effect upon individuals under the higher intensities of illumination. Mankind chooses a dimly lighted room in which to rest and to dream. A room intensely lighted by means of well-designed units which are not glaring is comfortable but not conducive to quiet contemplation. It is a place in which to be active. This is perhaps one of the factors which makes for increased production under adequate lighting.

Civilization has just passed the threshold of the age of adequate artificial lighting and only a small percentage of the industries have increased their lighting standards commensurately to the possibilities of the present time. If high-intensity artificial lighting was installed in all the industries and a 15 per cent. increase in production resulted, as tests appear to indicate, the increased production would be equal to that of nearly two million workers. This great increase in output is brought about by lighting at an insignificant increase in cost but without the additional consumption of food or clothing. Besides this increase in production there is the decrease in spoilage. The saving possible in this respect through adequate lighting has been estimated for the industries of this country at $100,000,000. If mankind is to have conveniences and luxuries, efficiency in production must be practised to the utmost and in the foregoing a proved means has been discussed.

There are many other ways in which artificial light may serve in increasing production. Man has found that eight hours of sleep is sufficient to keep him fit for work if he has a sufficient amount of recreation. Before the advent of artificial light the activities of the primitive savage were halted by darkness. This may have been Nature's intention, but civilized man has adapted himself to the changed conditions brought about by efficient and adequate artificial light. There appears to be no fundamental reason for not imposing an artificial day upon plants, animals, chemical processes, etc.; and, in fact, experiments are being prosecuted in these directions.

The hen, when permitted to follow her natural course, rises with the sun and goes to roost at sunset. During the winter months she puts in short days off the roost. It has been shown that an artificial day, made by piecing out daylight by means of artificial light, might keep the hen scratching and feeding longer, with an increased production of eggs as a result. Many experiments of this character have been carried out, and there appears to be a general conclusion that the use of artificial light for this purpose is profitable.

Experiments conducted recently by the agricultural department of a large university indicate that in poultry husbandry, when artificial light is applied to the right kind of stock with correct methods of feeding, the distribution of egg-production throughout the whole year can be radically changed. The supply of eggs may be increased in autumn and winter and decreased in spring and summer. Data on the amount of illumination have not been published, but it is said that the most satisfactory results have been obtained when the artificial illumination is used from sunset until about 9 p. m. throughout the year.

An increase of 30 to 40 per cent. in the number of eggs laid on a poultry-farm in England as the result of installing electric lamps in the hen-houses was reported in 1913. On this farm there were nearly 200 yards of hen-houses containing about 6000 hens, and the runs were lighted on dark mornings and early nights of the year preceding the report. About 300 small lamps varying from 8 to 32 candle-power were used in the houses. It was found that an imitation of sunset was necessary by switching off the 32 candle-power lamps at 6 p. m. and the 16 candle-power lamps at 9:30. This left only the 8 candle-power lamps burning, and in the faint illumination the hens sought the roosting-places. At 10 p. m. the remaining lights were extinguished. It was found that if all the lights were extinguished suddenly the fowls went to sleep on the ground and thus became a prey to parasites. The increase in production of eggs is brought about merely by keeping the fowls awake longer. On the same farm the growth of chicks incubated during the winter months increased by one third through the use of electric light which kept them feeding longer.

Many fishermen will testify that artificial light seems to attract fish, and various reports have been circulated regarding the efficacy of using artificial light for this purpose on a commercial scale. One report which bears the earmarks of authenticity is from Italy, where it is said that electric lights were successfully used as "bait" to augment the supply of fish during the war. The lamps were submerged to a considerable depth and the fish were attracted in such large numbers that the use of artificial light was profitable. The claims made were that the supply of fish was not only increased by night fishing but that a number of fishermen were thereby released for national service during the war. An interesting incident pertaining to fish, but perhaps not an important factor in production, is the use of electric lights in the summer over the reservoirs of a fish hatchery. These lights, which hang low, attract myriads of bugs, many of which fall in the water and furnish natural and inexpensive food for the fish.

Many experiments have been carried out in the forcing of plants by means of artificial light. Some of these were conducted forty years ago, when artificial light was more costly than at the present time. Of course, it is well known that light is essential to plant life and in general it is reasonable to believe that daylight is the most desirable quality of light for plants. In greenhouses the forcing of plants is desirable, owing to the restricted area for cultivation. It has been established that some of the ultra-violet rays which are absorbed or not transmitted by glass are harmful to growing plants. For this reason an arc-lamp designed for forcing purposes should be equipped with a glass globe. F. W. Rane reported in 1894 upon some experiments with electric carbon-filament lamps in greenhouses in which satisfactory results were obtained by using the artificial light several hours each night. Prof. L. H. Bailey also conducted experiments with the arc-lamp and concluded that there were beneficial results if the light was filtered through clear glass. Without considering the details of the experiment, we find some of Rane's conclusions of interest, especially when it is remembered that the carbon-filament lamps used at that time were of very low efficiency compared with the filament lamps at the present time. Some of his conclusions were as follows:

The incandescent electric light has a marked effect upon greenhouse plants.

The light appears to be beneficial to some plants grown for foliage, such as lettuce. The lettuce was earlier, weighed more and stood more erect.

Flowering plants blossomed earlier and continued to bloom longer under the light. The light influences some plants, such as spinach and endive, to quickly run to seed, which is objectionable in forcing these plants for sale.

The stronger the candle-power the more marked the results, other conditions being the same.

Most plants tended toward a taller growth under the light.

It is doubtful whether the incandescent light can be used in the greenhouse from a practical and economic standpoint on other plants than lettuce and perhaps flowering plants; and at present prices (1894) it is a question if it will pay to employ it even for these.

There are many points about the incandescent electric light that appear to make it preferable to the arc light for greenhouse use.

Although we have not yet thoroughly established the economy and practicability of the electric light upon plant growth, still I am convinced that there is a future in it.

These are encouraging conclusions, considering the fact that the cost of light from incandescent lamps at the present time is only a small fraction of its cost at that time.

In an experiment conducted in England in 1913 mercury glass-tube arcs were used in one part of a hothouse and the other part was reserved for a control test. The same kind of seeds were planted in the two parts of the hothouse and all conditions were maintained the same, excepting that a mercury-vapor lamp was operated a few hours in the evening in one of them. Miss Dudgeon, who conducted the test, was enthusiastic over the results obtained. Ordinary vegetable seeds and grains germinated in eight to thirteen days in the hothouse in which the artificial light was used to lengthen the day. In the other, germination took place in from twelve to fifty-seven days. In all cases at least several days were saved in germination and in some cases several weeks. Flowers also increased in foliage, and a 25 per cent. increase in the crop of strawberries was noted. Seedlings produced under the forcing by artificial light needed virtually no hardening before being planted in the open. Professor Priestley of Bristol University said of this work:

The light seems to have been extraordinarily efficacious, producing accelerated germination, increased growth, greater depth of color, and more important still, no signs of lanky, unnatural extension of plant usually associated with forcing. Rather the plants exposed to the radiation seem to have grown if anything more sturdy than the control plants. A structural examination of the experimental and control plants carried out by means of the microscope fully confirmed Miss Dudgeon's statements both as to depth of color and greater sturdiness of the treated plants.

Unfortunately there is much confusion amid the results of experiments pertaining to the effects of different rays, including ultra-violet, visible and infra-red, upon plant growth. If this aspect was thoroughly established, investigations could be outlined to greater advantage and efficient light-sources could be chosen with certainty. There is the discouraging feature that the average intensity of daylight illumination from sunrise to sunset in the summer-time is several thousand foot-candles. The cost of obtaining this great intensity by means of artificial light would be prohibitive. However, the daylight illumination in a greenhouse in winter is very much less than the intensity outdoors in summer. Indeed, this intensity perhaps averages only a few hundred foot-candles in winter. There is encouragement in this fact and there is hope that a little light is relatively much more effective than a great amount. Expressed in another manner, it is possible that a little light is much more effective than no light at all. Experiments with artificial light indicate very generally an increased growth.

Recently Hayden and Steinmetz experimented with a plot of ground 5 feet by 9 feet, over which were hung five 500-watt gas-filled tungsten lamps 3 feet above the ground and 17 inches apart. The lamps were equipped with reflectors and the resulting illumination was 700 foot-candles. This is an extremely high intensity of artificial illumination and is comparable with daylight in greenhouses. The only seeds planted were those of string beans and two beds were carried through to maturity, one lighted by daylight only and the other by daylight and artificial light, the latter being in operation twenty-fours hours per day. The plants under the additional artificial light grew more rapidly than the others, and of the various records kept the gain in time was in all cases about 50 per cent. From the standpoint of profitableness the artificial lighting was not justified. However, there are several points to be brought out before considering this conclusion too seriously. First, it appears unwise to use the artificial light during the day; second, it appears possible that a few hours of artificial light in the evening would suffice for considerable forcing; third, it is possible that a much lower intensity of artificial light might be more effective per lumen than the great intensity used; fourth, it is quite possible that some other efficient light-source may be more effective in forcing the growth of plants. These and many other factors must be carefully determined before judgment can be passed on the efficacy of artificial light in reducing the cost of living in this direction. Certainly, artificial light has been shown to increase the growth of plants and it appears probable that future generations at least will find it profitable to use the efficient light-producers of the coming ages in this manner.

In a moving-picture studio

In a portrait studio


Many other instances could be cited in which artificial light is very closely associated with the cost of living. Overseas shipment of fruit from the Canadian Northwest is responsible for a decided innovation in fruit-picking. In searching for a cause of rotting during shipment it was finally concluded that the temperature at the time of picking was the controlling factor. As a consequence, daytime was considered undesirable for picking and an electric company supplied electric lighting for the orchards in order that the picking might be done during the cool of night. This change is said to have remedied the situation. Cases of threshing and other agricultural operations being carried on at night are becoming more numerous. These are just the beginnings of artificial light in a new field or in a new relation to civilization. Its economic value has been demonstrated in the ordinary fields of lighting and these new applications are merely the initial skirmishes which precede the conquest of new territory. The modern illuminants have been developed so recently that the new possibilities have not yet been established. However, artificial light is already a factor on the side of the people in the struggle against the increasing cost of living, and its future in this direction is still more promising.

About HackerNoon Book Series: We bring you the most important technical, scientific, and insightful public domain books.

This book is part of the public domain. Matthew Luckiesh (2006). Artificial Light: Its Influence upon Civilization. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved October 2022

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at, located at