LED Goes Commercial

- Jun 24, 2019-

The first commercial applications of LED lighting came in the mid-1970s, when LED displays were incorporated into calculators and wristwatches. The LED lights used in these products were power-hungry, which limited the lifespans of the batteries in those products. They were also expensive. First-generation LED wristwatches were sold for more than $2,000, and the least expensive calculators sold for $400. These prices dropped rapidly as manufacturing ramped up to meet demand and more products with LED displays became available.

A precursor to the omnipresent flat-panel video display screens that are available everywhere today was first developed in 1977. The late 1970s also saw the development of the first organic LEDs (“OLEDs”), which were pioneered by Kodak.  OLEDs include a blend of an organic substance (i.e. a material that includes carbon) with traditional semiconductor materials.  OLEDs are now enabling manufacturers to make ultra-thin and flexible video display screens.

LEDs have also played a role in advancing desktop computer technology. In 1999, Microsoft unveiled the first optical mouse with LED tracking technology. LED computer mice have almost fully supplanted mechanical computer mice that relied on a trackball, which had a tendency to become dirt-clogged and unresponsive with age.

Although LED display screens were first developed in the late 1970s, they did not achieve commercial saturation until the early 2000s, when prices dropped and manufacturing improved to produce reliable and effective screens for video displays. The quality and contrast available on those screens reflected the engineering and development efforts that were devoted to LED improvements over a thirty-year period.