Phoebus Cartel

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The Phoebus cartel was an area, standards and type cartel that was founded on January 15, 1925 in Geneva by the world's leading manufacturers of light bulbs. The aim of the cartel was to agree to the exchange of patents and technical information as well as the division of the world market for incandescent lamps between the parties involved.

The cartel has recently become known through the agreement to limit the service life of incandescent lamps to 1,000 hours. It is controversial whether this was a legitimate standardization or an illegitimate cartel agreement. The cartel has been proven to exist until at least 1942. The name is derived from the company Phoebus SA Compagnie Industrielle pour le Développement de l'Éclairage , registered in Geneva in 1925 , in which the cartel members held shares in accordance with their market shares.

Regulations by the cartel

Standardization of the service life

One of the central agreements of the cartel was to standardize the lifespan of incandescent lamps to 1000 hours. In order to reduce the burning time of the incandescent lamps and to monitor the standard, considerable technical effort was made.

The standardization of the lifespan by the cartel is often cited as an example of planned obsolescence in the industry. Others present the obsolescence theory as a conspiracy theory. After all, an agreement on the service life of incandescent lamps could make sense for the consumer, because there is a technical and economic conflict of objectives between the parameters

  1. lifespan
  2. Brightness and
  3. Power consumption.

Each of the three parameters must be optimized primarily at the expense of the other parameters. There have been no significant improvements in service life through innovations in the material of the filament since the 1920s, and experts have expressed skepticism about the possibilities for significant improvements.

If there is a lack of standardization, there can be competition between the providers over the optimization of individual parameters, whereby the buyers can be deliberately misled. The standardization of the service life therefore led, so the argumentation of the light bulb manufacturer Osram, involved in the cartel, to fairer competition and greater transparency in purchase decisions. In internal correspondence, the companies involved also cited higher sales figures as an argument for a shorter service life.

The fact that most of the standard incandescent lamps available today do not last longer than an average of 1000 operating hours can be justified with a compromise between service life and luminous efficiency - for special applications such as traffic lights, lamps with a longer service life are produced, but which only have about half the luminous efficiency of general service lamps (380 lm opposite 730 lm). Conversely there are z. B. photolamps , which have an increased light output and color temperature, but have an unacceptably short service life for general lighting purposes. (See also this graphic in the article bulb / service life .)

Other arrangements

In addition to the standardization of the service life, a decision was made to transfer knowledge and unrestricted exchange of patents between the member companies, as well as an adjustment of production methods and standardization of lamp sockets and bases. The cartel implemented the E27 and E14 lamp bases, which are still standardized worldwide today .

In addition, the global market was divided into sub-markets that were locally limited ( regional cartel ). Each of the participants was granted a “home market” in which they could sell their products without having to fear competition from the other participants. This was effective because the member firms of the Phoebus cartel had a market share of over 80% in the world market at that time. In this way, each of the participants was able to sell their products with almost no significant competition, which is why everyone was able to set the prices almost at will.

Compliance with the allocated quotas was strictly monitored internally, as was compliance with the specified product lifespan; if they violated the law, financial sanctions could be imposed. A table from 1929, for example, lists exactly how many Swiss francs a company had to pay whose lamps exceeded the 1000-hour limit, staggered according to the length of the remaining burning time.


After the US entered the war in 1941, the cartel officially disappeared. There is no evidence to suggest that it continued to exist into the 1990s, or even exists today.

Legal position

In October 1942 the US government brought charges against General Electric and other participating companies for illegal price fixing and unfair competition. After an eleven-year legal battle, General Electric was convicted in 1953 and prohibited, among other things, the reduction of the life of incandescent lamps; however, the required fine was not paid.

According to the current legal situation, this cartel is considered an invariably prohibited regional cartel in Germany ( Law against Restraints of Competition ). The Federal Cartel Office justifies the ban with the general ban on cartels. This can only be approved in a few exceptional cases after an examination of the possible cartel participants and after hearing all parties involved. A territorial cartel is illegal in any case as it

  • Restricts companies in their right to enter any market,
  • other market participants are disadvantaged because they still have to compete with all other participants and
  • Excessive prices are to be feared on the newly created sub-markets.

Members of the Phoebus Cartel

All the major international manufacturers of light bulbs at the time were involved in the Phoebus cartel, for example:

See also


  • Cosima Dannoritzer , Jürgen Reuss: Buy for the garbage dump. The principle of planned obsolescence . orange-press , Freiburg 2013. ISBN 978-3-936086-66-9 .
  • Markus Krajewski: In the shadow of the cartel. Notes on Byron the pear In: Bernhard Siegert, Markus Krajewski (Ed.): Thomas Pynchon. Archive - Conspiracy - History , Volume 15 of [me: dien ^ i], edited by Claus Pias, Lorenz Engell, Joseph Vogl, VDG, Weimar 2003, pp. 73-107, ISBN 978-3-89739-367-7 .
  • Markus Krajewski: From the war of light to the history of light bulb cartels . In: Peter Berz, Helmut Höge, Markus Krajewski (eds.): The light bulb book . Edition Selene, Vienna 2001, pp. 173–193, ISBN 3-85266-109-9 ; New edition: Braunmüller, Vienna 2011, ISBN 978-3-99100-038-9 .
  • 100 years of OSRAM , company publication 2006 (PDF; 4.66 MB), pp. 33–34.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Commercial register - Registre de commerce - Registro di commercio: Geneva - Genève - Ginevra . In: Schweizerisches Handelsamtsblatt - Feuille officielle suisse du commerce . No. 30 . Bern February 7, 1925, p. 216 (French, ).
  2. Technological roulette - a multi-disciplinary study of the dynamics of innovation in electrical, electronic and communications engineering; The Phoebus Organization. (PDF; 1890 kB) (No longer available online.) 2006, formerly in the original ; accessed on March 23, 2013 (English).  ( Page no longer available , search in web archives )@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /
  3. ^ Phoebus SA., Compagnie Industrielle pour le Développement de l'Eclairage (Genève) , Articles of Association and Rules of Procedure, 1926, Geneva
  4. ^ Commercial register - Registre de commerce - Registro di commercio: Geneva - Genève - Ginevra . In: Schweizerisches Handelsamtsblatt - Feuille officielle suisse du commerce . No. 30 . Bern February 7, 1925, p. 216 (French, ).
  5. Deutschlandradio Kultur: The profitable death of the light bulb, accessed on August 29, 2014
  6. a b Markus Krajewski: The Great Lightbulb Conspiracy. The Phoebus cartel engineered a shorter-lived lightbulb and gave birth to planned obsolescence. In: IEEE Spectrum. September 24, 2014, accessed October 10, 2014 .
  7. ^ Markus Krajewski: Error planning . In: History of Technology . tape 81 , no. 1 , 2014, p. 95 .
  8. RC Koo, LJ Parascandola and J. Shurgan: Pressure Effects of the Fill Gas on the Filament Life of an Incandescent Lamp . In: Journal of the Illuminating Engineering Society . tape 3 , no. 4 , 1974, doi : 10.1080 / 00994480.1974.10732267 .
  9. Lifespan ( Memento from November 13, 2014 in the Internet Archive )
  10. ^ Markus Krajewski: Error planning . 2014, p. 97.106 .
  11. Data sheet of the OSRAM SIG 1541 LL (PDF; 127 kB)
  12. Krypton general service incandescent lamp: 60 W, 730 lm (12 lm / W), 1000 h
  13. ^ Markus Krajewski: Error planning . 2014, p. 106 .
  14. a b c Documentary by Cosima Dannoritzer , Buy for the garbage dump , 75 minutes, 2010. Online at Youtube
  15. Products for the throwaway society ( Memento of the original from November 13, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , Consumer Center Saxony, May 3, 2012 @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.verbü
  16. Hardware with expiration date , Focus, January 2, 2013
  17. a b c d Stefan Schridde and Christian Kreiß : Planned obsolescence: causes of development, concrete examples, consequences of damage, program of action. Expert opinion on behalf of the Bundestag parliamentary group Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen. Online: (PDF; 2.5 MB) ( Memento from April 17, 2013 in the Internet Archive ). Page 13.
  18. ^ Legal and ownership form (1938–1945) , including the annual report of ELIN Aktiengesellschaft 1939. Intended for the forty-first ordinary general meeting on July 24, 1940, Vienna 1940, self-published by the company; Web page accessed on October 2, 2011