Joel Spira, Lutron Founder, Lighting Control Pioneer and Prolific Inventor, Dies at 88

Lutron Electronics founder Joel Spira, leaves legacy of innovation in lighting controls, motorized shades, energy management and home automation.

Lutron founder Joel Spira. VIEW SPIRA'S LEGACY HERE.
Julie Jacobson · April 8, 2015

Coopersburg, Pa.—Joel Spira, founder of privately held Lutron Electronics and a pioneer in lighting controls and home automation, died this morning. He was 88 years old.

He died of natural causes at his home in Springfield Township, Pa., according to a report by The Morning Call citing the Lehigh County Coroner’s Office. 

Lutron representatives were not immediately available for comment.

A prolific inventor, Spira set up shop in his apartment in 1959 to create the world’s first solid-state dimmer, which he launched through Lutron, the company he founded in 1961.

Spira and wife Ruth were honored by the Smithsonian Institute in 2010 when several of their early lighting control inventions were accepted by the historical society. Their work in creating the solid state dimmer sits next to artifacts from Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell.

Spira reflected on his career and accomplishments in a wide-ranging video interview with CE Pro in 2010.

In 2009 I enjoyed the rare opportunity to interview “Mr. Spira,” as he was known, discussing topics such as dimmable ballasts, mesh networking, the high price of Lutron products and his patented species of Asian Pears.

Lutron is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of lighting devices and controls for consumer and commercial applications, holding more than 2,700 worldwide patents and offering some 16,000 products in over 100 countries, according to Forbes.


Lutron’s first “lab” in Joel Spira’s apartment, c. 1959.


The company was arguably the first to integrate dimmers and motorized shades to control both electric light and natural daylight for energy savings and comfort.

Spira relinquished his role as Lutron CEO in 2003, appointing himself to the newly created position of chairman. Long-time Lutron engineer John E. Longenderfer served as president and CEO of Lutron since then, and in 2012, the company elevated 35-year Lutron veteran Michael Pessina to the position of president.

Former vice-chairman of the board John F. McKiernan, who joined Lutron in 1973, passed away in 2013.

Spira is survived by his wife Ruth, who co-founded Lutron with her husband and serves as executive vice president and member of the board of directors. He also is survived by many children and grandchildren, whose names have not yet been provided.

Spira’s and Lutron’s impact on the commercial and residential lighting controls and energy management businesses is legendary.

Industry trade association CEDIA honored Spira in 2012 with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 2013, CE Pro included Spira in a list of the 20 Most Influential People of the Past 20 years.

We wrote at the time:

Claim to fame: Inventor of the solid-state dimmer, father of residential lighting control

Lutron is the undisputed leader in residential lighting controls. It’s that simple. The domination began in the 1990s, long after Spira invented the solid-state dimmer and incorporated Lutron in 1961.

Lutron holds over 2,700 patents for such things as a dimming ballast for fluorescent lights and a self-contained preset lighting control system – seemingly mundane innovations today, but hugely significant at the time.

Perhaps the biggest game changer came in 1997 with the introduction of RadioRA, the first viable wireless RF lighting control solution. Before that, there was the finicky powerline-based X10 and virtually nothing in between.

Lutron was one of the first companies to tout the energy-saving capabilities of dimming and later motorized shades, a category that Lutron dominates in the high-end market.

“I will say that I honestly had no idea that my invention would lead to this – the energy savings, the job creation and retention and the spawn of new ideas and technologies that make our homes and workplaces run better and more efficiently,” said Spira in accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award from CEDIA in 2010.

Beyond its technological innovations, Lutron is famous for its focus on aesthetics and sets the bar on industrial design. The company was arguably the first in the industry to build design centers to court the architect and interior design communities.

Please share your thoughts about Mr. Spira in the comments section below.

Lutron’s Joel Spira Talks Lighting Successes, Failures
Lutron Chairman’s Wife Confirms Lighting’s Impact on Romance
How Lutron Landed in the Smithsonian
Q&A: Joel Spira, Chairman of Lutron Electronics Inc.
CEDIA Honors Lutron’s Joel Spira with Lifetime Achievement Award
Lutron Founder Joel Spira on Mesh Networking, High Prices, Asian Pears

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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at

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  Article Topics

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