Thursday, April 9, 2015

In Memoriam: Passing of a Lighting Industry Legend

Joel Spira, founder of Lutron and a widely respected lighting industry icon, passed away April 8. The consummate entrepreneur, Mr. Spira was one of the lighting industry's true legends, inventing the world's first solid-state dimmer in his New York City apartment in 1959. He is credited with more than 300 design and utility patents in the U.S. and 2,700 patents across the globe. Spira had been at work the previous day developing a new product with Lutron colleagues. He was 88 years old.

“His work in lighting controls established a new industry sector. In turn, that industry became the means to significant energy savings,” said NEMA President Kevin J. Cosgriff.

Joel was born in New York City on March 1, 1927 to Elias and Edna Spira. After proudly serving in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1946, he attended Purdue University and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics in 1948.

At first, Spira worked for a defense contractor on projects that ultimately led him to think about lighting control – ideas that led to the commercialization of the dimmer for household use.

Spira and his wife Ruth invented the world's first solid-state dimmer from their New York City apartment in 1959. Since then, Spira expanded the company’s offerings to include the first dimming ballast, the first reliable wireless lighting control system, and other innovations that have been widely adopted as lighting control standards and integral aspects of energy efficiency and high-performance buildings.

Today, Lutron makes some 14,000 products that can be found in over a hundred countries in residences, palaces, universities, hotels, museums, and offices, including the Empire State Building.

Joel and Ruth moved the company to Coopersburg, in the Lehigh Valley region of eastern Pennsylvania. Even as Lutron grew into a global company, with sales in more than 100 countries, he continued to run the business with a personal touch.

In 2010, Joel’s accomplishments, inventions, and prominent role in helping develop an entirely new industry dedicated to lighting control were honored when items from Lutron’s 50-year history, including Joel’s first engineering notebook, product prototypes and early advertising materials, were donated to the Electricity Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, as part of the collection that also includes Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell.

He will be remembered as an entrepreneur and took great pride in everything he did, from working on the early stages of an engineering project, to creating and growing a global business.

Joel Spira is credited with more than 300 design and utility patents in the U.S. and 2,700 patents across the globe."

Joel will be remembered as a wonderful, loving husband, father and grandfather. He is survived by his beloved wife Ruth Rodale Spira, to whom he was married for 60 years; his sister Miriam Spira Poser; daughters Susan Spira Hakkarainen, Lily Spira Housler, and Juno Spira; and grandsons Ari Hakkarainen, Max Hakkarainen and Bailey Malanczuk.

Services will be private.  The family has requested memorial donations in lieu of flowers:
The Joel S. Spira Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) Education Fund
P.O. Box 850, 
Coopersburg, PA 18036

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