What Are Push Button Light Switches (And Why You Don't See Them Anymore)

Before we could turn on our overhead lights with the simple flick of a switch, we had push buttons. In 1884, electrical engineer John Henry Holmes created the push button light as an easy way for people to turn on all their lights rather than manually turn on individual lights. It revolutionized the way people moved around their houses — with a much safer and more convenient way to control lighting, people no longer relied heavily on gas lamps, candles, and fireplaces to keep their homes warm and bright. When toggle switches were introduced in the mid-20th century, however, the popularity of push button switches began to decrease.

Today, there are a variety of light switches in every home, including plastic switches or dials for homeowners to conveniently illuminate every room in the house. From single-pole to the Australian-style rocker, modern-day light switches are most often preferred over retro light switch designs. But if you're drawn to the traditional style, there are still ways to honor these vintage light switches, and we've got all the information you need to recreate the classic look.

Why push button lights are no longer the norm

There are a number of reasons why traditional push button lights are no longer frequently in use. For example, push buttons have a history of getting stuck in place and leaving homeowners with an illuminated house all night long. These switches aren't designed to carry out multiple functions, since they were the first introduction to light switches and the concept of wiring all lights to one switch, and are thus basic in nature. Similarly, push button lights aren't always capable of doing their job and can fail to turn the lights on due to their sensitivity.

It's also nearly impossible to tell whether a push button is on or off, unlike modern-day light switches that can indicate by position or labels whether they're on or off. If there's faulty wiring attached to a push button, you may not be able to tell whether electric currents are moving through and may risk an electric shock. However, modern innovations of push button light switches have addressed both safety and functionality, and there are a few ways you can adopt the vintage invention safely.

A modern take on push button light switches

If you want to incorporate this vintage staple into your home, it's safe to do so with modern recreations of the style. For starters, reproduced push button switches are properly wired with updated electrical code requirements, including a standard wall height, attachment to ground wires, and secure metal or plastic boxes. New push buttons are compatible with smart home products, including Amazon Alexa, Google Nest, and lighting control systems. All you have to do is replace your current light switch with a ready-to-install modern push button system that can easily be inserted within a hollowed wall.

For home design enthusiasts who want to take it a step further, push button light switches can be dressed up with vintage light switch covers. After installing the initial system, you can cover the system with a classic bronze cover or an engraved Victorian-style casing. There are endless possibilities for this once-beloved product that — through advancements in technology — can be uniquely incorporated into your home and honored as a part of history.