In 1893, visitors to Chicago’s Columbian Exposition were awestruck by the blaze of artificial light that bathed the fairground’s neo-Renaissance streets and plazas. Aglow at night with 93,000 electric lamps, the fairgrounds were dubbed the White City. Searchlights alone consumed more electricity than the entire city of Chicago, reports John Jakle in his definitive City Lights. The Exposition’s 16 million dazzled visitors spread the word. To emulate the White City, municipal governments began converting their archaic oil and gas street lamps to electric lights. Cities would never be the same.
Thus, municipal governments historically became important players in the transformation of lighting markets. During the late 1800s, they set up their own companies to raise capital to install gas street lighting on commercial streets. When electricity brought brighter light, they made large financial contracts with fledgling private utilities to convert the old to the new.
This article was published in the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of LEDs Magazine. To read the full version of this article, please visit our magazine page, where you can download FREE electronic PDF versions of all issues of LEDs Magazine. You can also request a print copy of LEDs Magazine (available by paid subscription) and sign up for our free weekly email newsletter.