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Bengal Lamp: First to manufacture electric bulbs in India

12 February, 2021 13:32:20
Bengal Lamp: First to manufacture electric bulbs in India

The 8-B bus stop, close to Jadavpur University campus, is a landmark location. As one travels southward, the very next halt after 8-B is a place that’s steeped in history and is a reminder of industrialist Bengalis’ glorious past. This was the site of Bengal Lamp, the first Indian-promoted company to manufacture electric bulbs in the country.

In the 19th-century, gas lamps radiated on the streets of Calcutta, especially in the European quarters. On July 24, 1879, P.W. Fleury and Company gave the first demonstration of electric lights in the city. After this, carbon arc lamp was introduced and found to be commercially viable for lighting up streets. The government of Bengal passed the Calcutta Electric Lighting Act in 1895, and the first license for 21 years covered an area of 5.64 sq miles. 

Suren, Hemen and Kiran Roy -- who hailed from the Narsinda zamindar family of Dhaka, decided to manufacture and sell electrical bulbs. Both Suren and Kiran Roy had studied obtained degrees in electrical engineering from Germany and were eminent professors at Jadavpur University. Hemen was a very efficient administrator. The trio established Bengal Lamp and Electrical Works.

Meanwhile, tungsten filament lamp was discovered and first marketed in Europe by the Hungarian company, Tungsram in 1904. Soon, the new lamps were imported to light up city streets. However, the new tungsten filament lamps or incandescent light bulbs failed to garner interest among Calcuttans and the gas lights continued to light up city streets after sundown. This continued for several years before Philips entered the virgin market and monopolized the illumination business in the entire country. 

Between 1930 and 1941, Philips Electric Company (India) established its office on 32, Chowringhee Road with 75 employees to expand its business. This was a time when Swadeshi sentiment s ran high among Indians. Boycotting foreign goods in favour of indigenous goods was a form of protest against British rule and Philips being a foreign company, faced the ire of the Swadeshis. Three siblings -- Suren, Hemen and Kiran Roy -- who hailed from the Narsinda zamindar family of Dhaka, decided to manufacture and sell electrical bulbs. Both Suren and Kiran Roy had studied obtained degrees in electrical engineering from Germany and were eminent professors at Jadavpur University. Hemen was a very efficient administrator. The trio established Bengal Lamp and Electrical Works. 

Introduced by foreign investors, use of electric bulbs was still in its nascent phase in the country and restricted to urban areas. Most middle-class Bengali households felt uneasy and uncomfortable under the glaring lights. The radiance of the sodium mercury vapour lamp was quite unacceptable inside most houses. So, the brothers decided to manufacture and sell electric lamps from their company, Bengal Lamp and Electrical Works. Bengal lamps picked up sale and within a very short time of its launch, monopolized the market. Bengal Lamps earned accolades for its superior quality and affordable price. Demand for the lamps far exceeded production and it was impossible to fulfil the requirement. The mother company at Kasba did not have the capacity to meet the vast demand hence a second factory was set up at Jadavpur. Bengal Lamp usurped a major chunk of the market that was dominated by Philips earlier. 

In the 19th-century, gas lamps radiated on the streets of Calcutta, especially in the European quarters. On July 24, 1879, P.W. Fleury and Company gave the first demonstration of electric lights in the city. After this, carbon arc lamp was introduced and found to be commercially viable for lighting up streets.

As the manufacturing unit expanded and new units were added, it opened a floodgate of job opportunities for Bengali youths. Later, Kiran Roy severed his involvement with Bengal Lamp and launched his own brand, Kiran Lamps. In the 1970s, Bengal Lamp established a factory in Bangalore and was recognized as a national brand. 

But after this successful stint, Bengal Lamp gradually began to trail as newer players entered the arena.  Frequent impasses over different issues between management and workers’ union further affected production and hampered modernization. Other companies took the opportunity to fill the vacuum created by Bengal Lamp and offered newer, power-saving electric lamps like fluorescent tubes and bulbs at a competitive rate. Bengal Lamp failed to change with the times and conceded defeat and retreated. Today, it remains a forgotten story from the annals of history of how Bengal once was the leader in the sphere of business and industry.

Story Tag:
  • Bengal Lamp

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