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The historical cost of artificial light, from JP Morgan to Kanye West

Musician/designer Kanye West attends the Gold Thimble Fashion Show at the Los Angeles Trade-Technical College on May 29, 2015, in Los Angeles, California.
Musician/designer Kanye West attends the Gold Thimble Fashion Show at the Los Angeles Trade-Technical College on May 29, 2015, in Los Angeles, California.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Oxford University researcher Max Roser charted the declining price of lighting in the United Kingdom since the 1300s:

Max Roser (2015) – ‘Light’. Published online at OurWorldInData.org.

Kanye West can have all of the lights because (as Thomas Edison promised) electricity became cheaper than candles — which were already dirt cheap by the end of the 1800s.

Electricity, from J.P. Morgan's living room to yours

As the above chart outlines, the first major decline in the price happened in the 1800s, when candle production costs dropped thanks to new source materials (see candle price chart below, taken from Seven Centuries of Energy Services, published in The Energy Journal and available on OurWorldInData):

Our World in Data/Roser

In 1880, Edison found an investor, J.P. Morgan, to help him to convince the public of the benefits of mass-produced electricity for the purpose of lighting. They put on a show with Edison's magic lightbulbs at Morgan's house, famously wowing thousands and, soon after, the nation (read the full version of the incredible story over at PBS):

J.P. Morgan hastily provided the 31-year-old inventor with the capital he needed to carry out his daring scheme. When the first electric lights cast their golden glow over Menlo Park on New Year's Eve 1880, a crowd of 3,000 people gathered in awe. Edison, the worker of miracles, had triumphed.

Electricity is very cheap to buy in most Western countries these days, but it wasn't always that way. For example, take a look at the average price of electric energy in the US between 1902 and 1930, via the Institute for Energy Research:

IER

Electricity isn't available everywhere: about 1.4 billion people live without access to grid-based electricity today. This means there's still an enormous unmet demand for new options like LEDs and solar-powered technologies.

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