Ball: Light Bulb Ed a bright idea with staying power


Light Bulb Ed was born about 20 years ago as an advertising prop that would ultimately become an Austin fixture.

It was the early 1990s. Edwin McGary was running the Light Bulb Shop — the name says exactly what it is — when Blue Genie Art Industries CEO Rory Skagen suggested the company do something to attract attention. McGary, of course, was all for that.

What they came up with was Light Bulb Ed, a 13-ft-tall bust of a man in a suit with a light bulb suspended above his head. They put it on the roof where it did, indeed, attract attention. The rest is Austin history.

“Its just become a landmark of sorts,” McGary said. “We’ve been written up in all kinds of magazines.”

The store certainly turns heads. It’s on Burnet Road, right next to Lamar Middle School. You can’t beat that kind of guaranteed traffic.

McGary was running a successful wholesale lighting business in the 1980s and had lots of big contracts. But when the economy tanked and those customers stopped paying, the Austin man needed another way to make ends meet.

Around that same time, popular American-Statesman columnist Ellie Rucker asked McGary to track down a hard-to-find bulb, he said. After searching far and wide, he finally located one and presented it to his pleased customer. Rucker wrote about it in the newspaper, McGary said.

“We started getting these strange calls for these weird light bulbs,” he said. “A light bulb went off, a bright idea.”

In 1986, he opened the Light Bulb Shop. A few years later came Light Bulb Ed.

Nobody calls him Light Bulb Ed now, said Kelly McGary, who manages the store for her father. Generally, he’s referred to as The Head.

The smiling big guy in the blue suit and red-striped tie has been through tough times, though. For years, he looked like Conan O’Brien. But a few years ago, a paint job somehow left him looking like President Barack Obama, Kelly McGary said. And since her dad is a devoted Republican …

“That was not a hit,” Kelly McGary said. “That was funny for about three seconds.”

Light Bulb Ed was repainted the next day.

Over the years, LB has become a tourist attraction of sorts. He’s been in newspapers, travel magazines, specialty publications and the like. People constantly show up to have their picture taken with him. And that’s fine by Edwin McGary

“People still get a kick out of it and still talk about it every day,” he said. “It’s been a real unique experience over the years.”


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