Ed Hammer invented the CFL in 1976 for General Electric. Squeezing a fluorescent into a bulbous shape wasn't easy; "I was given a number of reasons why it wouldn't work," he told Michael Kanellos of News.com, who writes: Bulbs and fluorescent light are not a natural combination. Fluorescent lights are ordinarily tube-shaped. Curving them into a bulb shape creates reflective losses, i.e. light that shines from one part of the tube gets deflected by a nearby spiral. Through a lot of trial and error, he came up with a way to space the spirals far enough apart to minimize losses without also losing a bulb-like shape.
As is so typical of so many great ideas, GE sat on it. CFL's would have needed a $25 million plant. "So they decided to shelve it," Hammer said. They didn't even license it, but the design leaked out. So much for ecoimagination! ::ZDNet