Ancient god ties the automaker, incandescent bulb together
Perhaps you’ve seen that Mazda CX-5 commercial that compares the capable crossover to Thomas Edison. As far as advertisements go, it’s not the most groundbreaking concept. The point is that, like good ol’ Edison, the CX-5 is a trailblazer — at least where safety and efficiency are concerned.
Note: We’re not here to argue for or against Edison himself — calm down, Nikola Tesla fanboys. Geez. We’re talking about a car advertisement, not trying to correct historical injustices; Edison just so happens to be a popular stand-in for stubborn, relentless inventiveness.
Still, something nagged. We knew Mazda related to Edison somehow, and it sure as hell didn’t have to do with
the CX-5. Then it clicked — the proverbial light bulb flickered to life, we guess. Mazda. Light bulbs. Thomas Edison.
It was all connected. Maybe.
Mazda, bringer of light
The turn of the 20th century saw the popularization and democratization of innumerable technological marvels. There was the automobile, of course, but also that universal symbol of progress and, well, enlightenment: The incandescent light bulb.
One of the major incandescent light bulb brands was Mazda, a product of General Electric introduced in 1909. Mazda-brand bulbs were hawked far and wide, and their most memorable advertisements made use of the neo-classical paintings of Maxfield Parrish.
GE stopped using the Mazda name around 1945. By that time, though, the other Mazda — actually still called Toyo Kogyo Co. — was already building the Mazda-Go utility three-wheeled truck. Note that, while all vehicles produced by Toyo Kogyo were badged as Mazdas, the company itself didn’t change its name to Mazda Motor Corporation until 1984.
The Zoroastrian Connection
A gorgeous ceramic rendition of the Faravahar, a well-known symbol of Zoroastrianism.
So far as we can tell, there’s no direct corporate link between the automaker Mazda and a defunct General Electric light bulb brand. You have to get a little more abstract — and jump back in time by about 2,500 years — to see how it all fits together.
The missing link? Zoroastrianism, an ancient monotheistic Iranian religion founded by a man named Zoroaster.
Zoroastrianism’s deity is Ahura Mazda, the lord of light and wisdom. “Mazda,” as it happens, is the “wisdom” part of that equation; “ahura” means lord in Avestan. At some point, a classically educated marketer though “Mazda” was a catchy name for a light bulb. We’re inclined to agree, though “Lucifer” and “Prometheus” would have earned style points as well.
For its part, Mazda claims its name was also inspired by the Zoroastrian deity. From Mazda:
”The company’s name, ‘Mazda,’ derives from Ahura Mazda, a god of the earliest civilizations in West Asia. We have interpreted Ahura Mazda, the god of wisdom, intelligence and harmony, as the symbol of the origin of both Eastern and Western civilizations, and also as a symbol of automobile culture. It incorporates a desire to achieve world peace and the development of the automobile manufacturing industry. It also derives from the name of our founder, Jujiro Matsuda.”
Interestingly, Mazda’s second logo — used from 1936 to 1962 — doesn’t look too terribly unlike a highly stylized take on the Zoroastrian Faravahar symbol:
It’s entirely possible — likely, even — that the use of Thomas Edison in a CX-5 commercial was pure coincidence. But whether or not Mazda marketers are savvy enough to reach across millennia to draw a subtle connection between their vehicles and a once-popular brand of light bulb, we’re glad we could shed some light on the ancient deity that lent his name to two wildly different products of the industrial age.