Ohio History Journal

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 14
  • 15
  • 16
  • 17

Charles F

Charles F. Brush and the First Public

Electric Street Lighting System in America






THE DEVELOPMENT OF street lighting is one of the most

important factors which can be considered in gauging the

social history of urban life. Until the middle of the eighteenth

century there was very little incentive for the dweller to

leave his house after dark, but with the advent of the indus-

trial revolution the tempo of life exerted more and more pres-

sure of activities which could not be completed in the daylight

hours. By the end of the first decade of the nineteenth cen-

tury the demand for better street lighting had resulted in

the installation of gas lamps. But the most spectacular break-

through in the entire history of street lighting came in the

form of the dazzlingly brilliant electric arc light. Within a

few years after its commercial introduction in the late 1870's,

both large cities and small towns provided at least their

main thoroughfares with the new electrical illumination.

There was a notable diminution of accidents at night to per-

sons, horses, and vehicles. But the most salutary benefit

derived from the decrease in crime. A contemporary cartoon

symbolizes the light as a policeman dispersing a band of

thugs carrying the devil on their shoulders. The legend reads:

"Crime has no bosom for the bright rays of the mid-day sun,

but revels amidst the shadows of night. The electric arc


* Mel Gorman is a professor of chemistry at the University of San Francisco.