Joel Spira, founder of Lutron Electronics Co., passed away in his Pennsylvania home on April 8, 2015. According to a Lutron statement published in The Morning Call on April 8th, the 88-year old was enthusiastically engaging with engineers on a new wireless smart home product the night before his death. He leaves behind an incredible legacy.
With over 300 patents, Joel Spira’s ingenuity has been recognized around the world and at home. The Museum of Modern Art and the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum showcase the Lutron NovaT dimmer and the Vierti dimmer, respectively. The Smithsonian also displays 12 of his inventions.
World War II interrupted the Purdue University graduate’s physics education but provided him with rich experience working on clandestine research using radio waves to spot radar. These experiences gave him unique insight, enabling him to develop Lutron’s motion-sensing light switches. After his 1948 graduation, he worked on defense projects including one that involved developing a fuse mechanism for atomic bombs. This project inspired him to explore the possibility of making the household dimmer switch, his best known invention.
Spira’s invention of the household dimmer switch was an incredible feat at the time. In those days, dimmer switches created too much heat to be used in homes. In pursuit of a solution, he tested his ideas and destroyed a $300 transformer every day for 6 straight months. In 1959, he finally had created a solid state dimmer which could be housed in standard-sized electrical boxes.
With over 2,700 patents and 1,100 employees, Spira’s company, Lutron Electronics Co. is perhaps his biggest legacy; founded in 1961, it is now a world leader in the manufacture of lighting devices and controls. For more than 50 years, he has inspired scientists and engineers to join his company and seek innovative, efficient lighting solutions. Today, Lutron lighting products can be found at some impressive sites like Windsor Palace, Queen Elizabeth II’s preferred residence in the U.K.; the Bank of China’s Headquarters in Beijing; and the Empire State Building in New York City.
Joel Spira’s legacy will live on through his inventions and through his company’s products, but more importantly, through the many people he inspired.