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  2. Ellipsoidal Reflector Spotlight-Ancient History

In 1923, a GE engineer named Frank Benford developed the optics for an ellipsoidal reflector spotlight. However, it was not until about 1933 that GE was able to develop a suitable lamp that could withstand the heat inside the ERS reflector.

GE offered two lamps to the market: the T-12 medium prefocus base adopted by Century Lighting in their Leko ERS, and a medium bi-post T-14 adopted by Kliegl. The T-12 was thought to be superior due to the smaller hole in the reflector, but it was plagued by problems with adhesive between the bulb and the base-- the glass bulb often separated from the base when re-lamping. The T-14 bi-post design avoided this problem.

Stanley McCandless (later the author of A Method of Lighting the Stage) and E.B. Kirk were the designers of the Century Leko. Original ERS designs used an exotic reflector coating, perhaps Rhodium. In 1935, Alcoa developed the Alzak process, which they licensed to 7 or 8 manufacturers. This highly reflective process stayed in favor in ERS designs until it was displaced by glass reflectors in 1992.

Kliegl formed a separate Kliegl Brothers company to use the Alzak process, while Century decided not to become an Alzak licensee--preferring to subcontract reflectors from Major Electric in Chicago.

Another nice piece of trivia: when Ed Kook and Joe Levy formed Century Lighting, they were working for Display Stage Lighting. They named the new company Century because "C" came before "D" in the Yellow Pages.

Credit for the above history to Sonny Sonnenfeld, a fixture in the lighting industry for more than 60 years who recently celebrated his 90th birthday.


UPDATE: Another View

There is another view as to who got there first with the ellipsoidal, Century or Kliegl. Dr. Joel E. Rubin, executive vice president of Kliegl for many years, recently donated his collection of books and papers to the Lawrence and Lee Theatre Arts Collection at Ohio State University. He has kindly assembled the pertinent catalog entries and a 1923 US patent, which are now attached to this article. Dr. Rubin said "You can see how easy it was for Kliegl to be first. They were already making use of ellipsoidal reflectors in the downlights at the Center Theatre which opened in December of 1932. And Richard Engelken, Kliegl nephew, was on staff providing the ongoing design of the theatre fixture much as we know it today"


Interesting to note that there was seemingly no further lamp development on the 750T12/9 or 500T14/7 until the Quartz-Iodide lamps in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Likewise the fixtures stagnated also.

Why are there no examples of existing ERS fixtures prior to the Century 1500-series or Kliegl 1100-series from the mid?-1950s ?

Could this be one?


From Full text of "A chronological history of electrical development from 600 B.C." :
1. Century Lighting Equipment, Inc.
2. 1929
3. Joseph Levy, Pres.
Edward F. Kook, Treas.
4. Joseph Levy

1. Universal Electric Stage Lighting Co.
2. 1896
3. Anton T. Kliegl
John H. Kliegl
4. Anton T. Kliegl
I've recently read that Joseph Levy had two brothers who were, at least peripherally, involved in Century Lighting. Odd that their participation is largely forgotten/ignored.
From An Oral History Of Theatrical Lighting And Its People :
Marge Romans: How did Ed Kook get into the theatrical lighting business?
Bob Schiller: He grew up with theatre people--Jo Mielziner and Kermit Bloomgarten and Herman Shumlin, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. They all grew up together and were buddies. As a youngster, he enjoyed the theatre and did some work in the theatre, but he was primarily an accountant with a company called Display Stage Lighting. Ed and these three brothers named Levy had bought Display Stage Lighting, and from that formed a company called Century Lighting Equipment, in the early 30s. Joe Levy was an electrical engineer who developed and invented the leko; Irving Levy ended up running the financial department; and Saul Levy was an attorney who had all the money. Ed was the president and financial guy.
Also interesting is that both Century and Kliegl began with the "Vari*Lite model"; preferring to lease, rather than sell outright, equipment to producers.

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