The modern, everyday light switch isn’t even 100 years old. Not surprising if you think about the fact that electric lights haven’t even been in homes for much longer than that. Yet, we hardly think about the humble light switch, which gives a lifetime of use for barely any cost, and which functions perfectly day after day. The only time we think about a light switch is when the power goes out and they suddenly stop working.
The modern light switch that most homes still have was patented in 1917 and has improved ever since. Before that, homes used switches that had a tendency to arc (or create little sparks) every time they were used, which must have been a little nerve-wracking to say the least. The modern toggle switch and its descendant the “Decorator-style” switch use springs and levers in the mechanism to make sure that the actual “switching” takes place as fast as possible which keeps arcing to a minimum. This means that the switches last a very long time because there’s less heat created in each switch cycle.
If you’re old enough, or live in a home that’s old enough, you might remember push-button switches or switches that click loudly when used. These were some of the earliest designs to offer super-fast switching but ultimately the “quiet” switch we know today won out over both of them.