12. Street Light

On 4th June 1807, the well known Pall Mall in London was aglow with the world’s first ever street lighting! The man behind the miracle was Frederick Winsor. The occasion was the birthday celebration of King George III. Very soon street lights became part of the daily life in all major cities of the world.

Today it will be difficult for us to imagine a world without street lights. But in the past there was complete darkness once the night fell. The main source of light at night was the moon. But it rises and sets at different time everyday and the “new-moon-days” turn out to be “no-moon-days”.

In the past, most people would stay indoors after dark. It was a challenge to find one’s way in the dark. Also the darkness provided complete cover to the deadly criminals. So dangerous was the darkness that the Roman writer Juvenal warned that it was extreme carelessness to go out for supper–without writing one’s will first!

In 1416, all the householders were asked to hang lanterns outside their houses, in the winter, by the Lord Mayor of London. Louis XI of France issued similar orders in 1461, in the interest of the people’s safety.

In U.S.A the main streets of New York were lit by whale-oil-lamps tacked on posts. The lighting was bleak and dim. With the invention of the gas lighting, things improved fast. By 1830, gas street lighting was adopted in New York and most of Europe.

Independent of each other, Joseph Swan of England and Thomas Alva Edison of USA invented the filament electric lamp in 1878 and 1879 respectively. Using vacuum space, bulbs were made brighter and lasted longer.

As soon as electric lamps appeared on the streets, the crime rates dropped dramatically. Yet electric lights superseded gas lamps very slowly. Only when driving the newly invented automobiles demanded brighter and better lighting, Sodium and Mercury lamps came into use in 1930s.

Today we take for granted the efficient lighting system, flooding the streets at night time. Those who complain of the high cost of electricity will be “shocked” by this information. To get the same illumination, we will have to spend 500 times more on candles than on a fluorescent bulb!

Come what may, the street lights have come to stay!

Visalakshi Ramani


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