Beaver stole fire from the pine trees. Man stole fire from Kondole the whale. And Prometheus stole fire from the gods. But every advance in illumination since has resulted more from hard work and a little bit of luck. Michel-Eugène Chevreul invented the clean-burning candle after years of studying the chemical composition of dyes. William Procter, candlemaker, and James Gamble, soapmaker, were two young craftsmen in the bustling river town of Cincinnati when they met; their wives were sisters, and on the back of that connection, a vast commercial enterprise was built; as the more interesting historical bits of Richard Powers’ Gain lay out, the waste products of soap could be used to make candles and vice versa. Proctor & Gamble and their cousins (and the nineteenth century invention of the candle-molding machine) helped drive the practice of chandlery out of the home and into the factory. The discovery of spermaceti, the substance that gives sperm whales their name, provided gainfully employment to Melville‘s whalers, as they set forth from Nantucket and the rest of New England looking for sperm whales. Whale oil was used not just in lamps but also to make hard, sweet-smelling, long-burning candles. And when the Civil War disrupted the whaling industry, the men drilling for oil in Pennsylvania created a market beyond patent rheumatism cures; the invention of kerosene and kerosene lanterns vaulted fossil fuels ahead of whale oil as personal lighting technology. Then came Edison. Although the technology behind the lightbulb predated Edison’s team, they created the first long-lasting carbon fillament, capable of lasting for hundreds of hours (and more; one bulb has lasted for a hundred years, meaning that Phoebus should be around to turn the poor thing off any day now). But the incandescent bulb generates light as a side effect of its electrical resistance; it might be better thought of as a heat source we can read by. Newer technologies, such as compact fluourescent bulbs, which are some four to six times more energy efficient, have become more popular; the energy savings that would be realized by a nationwide conversion are immense enough that Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories, more usually associated with nuclear physics and supercomputer engineering, has a design lab for better lamps. But there’s life in the incandescent bulb yet; bulbs using longer-lasting, more efficient "nanotube" filaments may hit the market within five years. That’s five more years, at least, before the world faces a crisis even LBL’s scientists — even Gyro Gearloose — might not be able to solve: when the incandescent lightbulb goes, what icon will the world use to indicate a bright idea?