Lutron’s Joel Spira, R.I.P.
The Lutron family is deeply saddened to announce that Joel Spira, the company’s Chairman, Founder, and Director of Research, died this morning, Wednesday, April 8, 2015.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Joel’s wife Ruth, and his entire family. As the founder of Lutron Electronics, Joel created a business focused on the customer experience and benefiting society. He not only patented the electronic light dimmer but developed an entirely new industry dedicated to lighting control. His profound influence affects all of us in the Lutron family and encourages generations of young engineers, scientists, and designers to become innovators in lighting control and in the fields of engineering and physics. His innovations not only save energy, but also make people’s lives better by creating residential and commercial spaces that are more comfortable and more pleasant,” said Michael Pessina, President of Lutron Electronics.
Susan Hakkarainen, Joel’s daughter and Senior Vice President at Lutron said, “My father always felt that we should design from a customer perspective rather than just focusing on the technology. His objective is to always make products that are technically excellent but also beautiful so that people will enjoy them in their homes, offices, restaurants, hotels, museums, schools, healthcare facilities and everywhere they work, live, and play. He was a wonderful husband, father, grandfather, and friend, and considered every employee to be part of his extended family.”
Spira formed Lutron Electronics in 1961 to market his invention of the first solid-state dimmer for incandescent lighting. Under his 54-year leadership, Lutron has developed products to control all types of light bulbs, including LEDs as well as shade and temperature controls. As recently as Tuesday evening, Joel was actively working with a team of engineers on the new Lutron Caséta Wireless smart home system, which includes dimmers, switches, thermostats and window shades that can be controlled from the Apple iPad, iPhone and Android devices.
Always committed to manufacturing products that save energy and provide a benefit to society, the many energy-efficient dimming products produced by Lutron save the nation approximately 9.2 billion kWh annually, an output equivalent to one large nuclear power plant, or about $1 billion in energy costs. Spira is credited with more than 300 United States design and utility patents. Lutron products have received many design awards. The Lutron NovaT*® dimmer has been collected by MOMA, and the Vierti® dimmer has been collected by the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. In 2010, items from Lutron’s 50-year history were donated to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
Caroll Neubauer, Chairman and CEO of B. Braun Medical, Inc. said, “I had the true privilege of knowing and working with Joel Spira. I admired him as a brilliant inventor, a successful entrepreneur and a wonderful man. I have lost a good friend.”
Spira graduated from Purdue University in 1948 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics. Since then he has received honors and distinctions too numerous to list. In 1995 he was cited as one of Purdue University’s “Distinguished Graduates for Outstanding Invention”, and received the Leonardo DaVinci Award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 2000.
Spira is a member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). He has received honorary Doctorates from Lehigh University, Muhlenberg College, and Purdue University.
Spira served on advisory boards and councils, and he and Ruth supported Excellence in Teaching awards at Carnegie Mellon University, The Cooper Union, Cornell University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Lehigh University, M.I.T., Muhlenberg College, Penn State University, the University of Michigan, the University of Notre Dame, and his own Purdue University.
U. S. Representative Charlie Dent offered this tribute, “Joel Spira was a giant of American Industry — an Edison-like inventor and a great man very much dedicated to his family, company, employees and community. I have known Joel for over twenty-five years. He was a larger-than-life figure to me. I’m deeply saddened by his passing and my family’s thoughts and prayers are with Joel’s family and friends. Joel invented the dimmer, but his memory will always shine bright.”
Obituary: Joel S. Spira
Joel S. Spira, a prodigious innovator who changed the way we illuminate our homes by inventing the first solid state electronic dimmer, and founded and built Lutron Electronics Co., Inc. into a global company selling a wide array of lighting controls, passed away at his home on April 8, 2015, at age 88. Spira, who was Chairman, Founder and Director of Research, started Lutron in 1961 with his wife Ruth in a spare bedroom of their apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He use d his extraordinary talent for tinkering, engineering, and business to transform the small firm into a highly respected worldwide brand.
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. The Capri dimmer was introduced in the early 1960s with ads suggesting that it could enhance the ambiance of a room by “dialing romance.” 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 comp any, with sales in more than 100 countries, he continued to run the business with a personal touch.
Lutron was built on and still follows five company principles, by which Joel himself lived:
1. Take care of the customer with superior goods and services.
2. Take care of the company.
3. Take care of the people.
4. Innovate with high-quality products.
5. Deliver value to the customer.
Joel was a contributor to the arts, healthcare, and education and he was a proud and generous member of Congregation Keneseth Israel of Allentown. He served on a number of advisory boards and councils, and he and Ruth supported education by funding the Ruth and Joel Spira Excellence in Teaching Awards at Carnegie Mellon University, The Cooper Union, Cornell University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Lehigh University, M.I.T., Muhlenberg College, Penn State University, the University of Michigan, the University of Notre Dame, and his own Purdue University. He was a member of the National Academy of Engineering [NAE], a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers [IEEE], and the American Association for the Advancement of Science [AAAS].
Joel loved his family and treasured his time with each family member. Wednesday movie night with Ruth was a sacred tradition. Joel took tremendous pleasure in the whimsical, such as his watch collection, birdwatching and his penchant for colorful outfits. He treated employees like members of his extended family and took time to know people on a personal level. He always took time out to do even the smallest things for his community, his company and his family always looking at things with a “what could be” instead of a “what is” attitude, Joel’s true passion was coming up with new inventions and creative ways of looking at things. He sweated the details, and was committed to precise, dogged attention to the highest quality standards. He didn’t just create something for his own sake or for the money — he wanted to create wealth in society and deliver value. 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.
Insatiably curious and inquisitive, he was the holder of more than 300 U.S. patents, and under his guidance Lutron expanded its product line from basic, utilitarian dimmer switches to highly advanced and high-tech lighting controls and home automation systems. Joel led Lutron for 54 years. He also created a company called Subarashii Kudamono (Wonderful Fruit in Japanese), a grower and marketer of unique Asian pears after being introduced to the fruit during his business travels to the Far East.
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.
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 (her husband Joseph Poser); daughters Susan Spira Hakkarainen (husband Pekka Hakkarainen), Lily Spira Housler (husband Ryan 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.
Checks may be specifically made out to The Joel S. Spira Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) Education Fund and/or The Joel S. Spira International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) Education Trust Fund, PO Box 850, Coopersburg, PA 18036.
You can read here the article published in the New York Times about Joels death.