Illustrated Essays Mazda

The MAZDA Story

In 1909, General Electric first used the name Mazda on their lamps. Today, we associate the name with automobiles, but when it was first used by GE it was chosen to represent the best that the American lighting industry had to offer. The name was taken from Persian mythology: Ahura Mazda was the the goddess of light…

A selection of carbon filament Christmas lamps, circa 1908

The earliest light bulb filaments were made of various carbonized materials, including bamboo. Light output was rated in candlepower, with 1 candlepower or (1CP) being roughly equivalent to the light output of a single beeswax candle. Most carbon Christmas lights were rated at either one or two CP, but despite this rating, light output from each lamp varied widely. Practically speaking, it was virtually impossible to accurately rate the output from carbon filaments, even though each filament was made to the same standards.

In the early days of electric light bulbs, most of the bulb manufacturers each had their own set of production standards, and light bulb quality and light output was quite different both from brand to brand and from lamp to lamp within each brand. Lamp bases were not standardized, and light output ratings would vary greatly. This inconsistency was most frustrating to the consumer, which resulted in less than stellar light bulb sales. In 1909, General Electric came up with the idea of a set of manufacturing specifications to which all American lamp manufacturers could adhere, thereby effectively “standardizing” light bulbs in the United States.


1917 Mazda logo attributed to Maxfield Parrish

General Electric’s new service would be available for a price to all lamp makers who subscribed, and the MAZDA name would be widely advertised by GE in almost all of the popular magazines of the day. The MAZDA name and standards were available for license only for lamps using tungsten filaments. Tungsten, a vast improvement over the carbon filaments, had a brighter, whiter light output which was much more even from lamp to lamp, assuring equal brightness when used in a string of Christmas lights. Improvements to household light bulbs were not usually incorporated into the small and much less used Christmas light bulbs until several years later due to increased production costs, and the use of tungsten in the manufacture of Christmas lamps did not appear until about 1916. It had been available in household lamps since 1907.

This ad, from the a 1917 issue of Popular Science magazine, explains the Mazda “mission”, and reads as follows:

The new light that MAZDA service throws on lamp-manufacturers’ problems is reflected in the brighter, whiter light that MAZDA Lamps give in your home.

1917 Mazda logo attributed to Maxfield Parrish

The Meaning of MAZDA

MAZDA is the trademark of a world-wide service to certain lamp manufacturers. Its purpose is to collect and select scientific and practical information concerning progress and developments in the art of incandescent lamp manufacturing and to distribute this information to the companies entitled to receive this Service. MAZDA Service is centered in the Research Laboratories of the General Electric Company at Schenectady, New York. The mark MAZDA can appear only on lamps which meet the standards of MAZDA service. It is thus an assurance of quality. This trademark is the property of the General Electric Company.

mazda christmas lamps

circa 1920 box of Westinghouse MAZDA Christmas lamps

Many of the lighting companies then in business licensed the MAZDA name, among them the various Edison, Westinghouse and National companies. Most Christmas lamps after about 1925 or so will be found with either the General Electric or Westinghouse name on them, as the pair was by far the largest supplier of Christmas and other light bulbs in the United States.

General Electric heavily advertised their MAZDA trademark once it became associated exclusively with the new tungsten filaments. The lamps were more expensive, but promised better, more reliable and economical operation. The 1917 ad pictured here on the right is typical of those found in many magazines of the time. Gradually, the buying public abandoned their old carbon filament lamps in favor of the new tungsten. The Edison Mazda companies commissioned world famous artist Maxfield Parrish to create a series of calendars and other advertising paraphernalia based loosely on major events in the history of lighting. The picture on the left is from a 1923 calendar and is entitled “The Lamplighter of Bagdad”. Apparently neither the Edison companies nor Parrish himself caught the misspelling of the name “Baghdad.” Parrish’s beautiful works of art for this advertising campaign are highly collectible and most sought after.

By 1920 or so, the conversion to tungsten in the Christmas lighting industry was complete. The major exception was with lamps imported from Japan, many of which continued to utilize carbon filaments until 1927. This was most evident in their clear glass figural lamps, but smooth cone miniature base C-6 lamps from Japan can be found with carbon filaments as well. Pictured below are two examples of these late 1920s Japanese lamps:

1925 Japanese carbon figural 1925 Japanese carbon figural

1925 Japanese carbon cone 1925 Japanese carbon cone

Pictured on the left is a typical 1920s ad by General Electric/Edison Mazda, and is from the December 12, 1925 edition of The Saturday Evening Post. The charming picture is by book illustrator Rundle. The ad promotes the use of electric lights for the Christmas tree and reads in part:

Nothing adds so much to Christmas cheer and the decoration of your home as electric light. It is the least expensive of the season’s joys. For the cost of an old fashioned Christmas tree candle, for the cost of a few tree ornaments, you can light up your whole house in a blaze of cheer. And keep the cheer of Christmastide in your home throughout the year. Use light freely, for electric light is the cheapest light the world has known. Just remember that the best and cheapest light lamps to burn are Mazda Lamps. Mazda-the mark of a research service.

Edison Mazda Lamps are a General Electric Product.

As the decade of the 1930s began, Americans had fully accepted the MAZDA name as a symbol of quality for their Christmas light bulb needs, and many outfits proudly proclaimed the inclusion of MAZDA lamps in their sets. Only the economic factors continued to be a bit of a hindrance, as a typical MAZDA Christmas lamp sold for 5 cents, while the Japanese tungsten equivalent were two for a nickel. Competition from the Japanese became more fierce as the effects of the Great Depression settled in, and many lighting outfit advertisements from NOMA and General Electric urged they buying public to “Buy American”. Comparison studies of American MAZDA versus Japanese tungsten lamps were commissioned by both General Electric and Westinghouse. Although the test criteria would probably not withstand close scrutiny by today’s testing standards, results of the studies showed an average life of 46.8 hours for the Japanese tungsten lamps, compared to an average 207.4 hours for a MAZDA tungsten lamp, a dramatic difference. Nonetheless, the Japanese lamps gave good enough service to be huge sellers up until the beginning of World War II.