Streetlights - Part 3
by Horace Smith



By Horace A. Smith


(Horace Smith’s article, part 3) A newspaper report  for April 18, 1901, reported that the “electric light company have placed a new double carbon arc lamp on the pole at the corner of Main and Church streets and an enclosed arc lamp on the pole at the corner of Main and Bank streets for public inspection.  After a trial of the two lamps the committee will decide which to accept.” The enclosed globe model won the competition. However, the April 24, 1901, edition of the Hartford Courant noted a dispute between the city and the electric light company over costs of running the newer lights.                 The Norwich Bulletin for July 22, 1911, reported that Willimantic then had 116 arc lights on its streets. As already noted, arc lights could be bright, but their arcs required frequent maintenance to keep working. The Norwich Bulletin article reported that Willimantic’s lights did not always operate properly. The newspaper complained: “The people want light, are paying good money for light, and should be given the best possible service.”        By 1914, 15 street lamps with incandescent bulbs supplemented 100 with arc lamps. The improved tungsten-filament incandescent bulbs available at this time were less expensive, less glaring, required less attention, and provided a steadier, if somewhat dimmer, illumination than arc lamps. Incandescent bulbs would be the future of Willimantic’s street lighting as carbon arc lights were gradually retired.        World War I  saw a pause in the expansion of electric lighting. In 1917, the year the United States entered the war, street lights throughout the Willimantic campground section of the city were turned off at 10pm.  One man reportedly spent several hours searching for his cottage. Wartime fuel shortages in 1918 resulted in all city street lights being turned off after 11pm on moonlit nights. By the 1920s, the carbon arc streetlights were things of the past.

            The increase in street lighting, as well as electric lighting of stores and homes, resumed as the wartime years gave way to the Roaring Twenties . Those remaining homes and businesses that relied upon gas lighting went with the flow and switched to more convenient electric lights. Automobiles moved down paved streets at increasing speeds, encouraging installation of more streetlighting, despite improved headlights on the automobiles themselves. Downtown streetlights of the 1920s to 1940s had incandescent bulbs, something of a decorative appearance, and were less tall and bright than their successors. There were also more of them than in arc lamp times.  Nonetheless, light pollution – unwanted light that bothers neighbors and brightens the sky – was still low by later standards. In the 1950s and1960s, streetlamps attached to tall posts proliferated, and mercury-vapor lights became common.  Orange-yellow sodium lamps would eventually supplant mercury-vapor lights, only to themselves be followed by the introduction of more efficient LED lighting. This week’s photograph was taken by Connecticut Light and Power in October, 1951 to demonstrate the brightness of the new street lights the company had just installed on Main Street. The view is to the east, of the south side of the street. There is more light now, but light pollution has become serious, and it has become harder to see the stars at night. Horace A. Smith, is a former Willimantic resident and now Professor Emeritus in the Dept. of Physics and Astronomy at Michigan State University 





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