The history of gas lighting dates back to the 15th centrury when people used beeswax, fish oil and other substances to light their lanterns. Permanent gas lights were unheard of up until the then mayor of London, Sir Henry Barton, ruled that all citizens were to hang lanterns with lights from their homes during the winter evenings. Other large cities soon followed this proclemation, with Parisians lighting their homes in 1524. For more than 200 years, large cities and small rural communities were ordering their citizens to hang oil lamps during the evening hours with monetary penalties for those who disobeyed.
The Father of Modern Gas Lighting
William Murdoch, a British engineer and inventor, utilized the flammability of manufactured gas to light his cottage in 1792 and changed the way the civilized world lived. With the success Murdoch had with lighting his cottage, he began to experiment with different types of natural gasses and determined that the gas produced from coal was the most effective fuel available for gas lighting. William then devised a system which allowed him to light the main building of the Soho Foundry, where he worked in 1798 and then the outside of the foundry in 1802. This first public display of gas lights left the public in awe – especially foundry employee Samuel Clegg – who instantly saw the vast potential for gas lighting.
Gast Street Lights
The potential of gas lights was quickly noticed by city gvernments. Pall Mall, London was the first city street to be lit with gas lighting in 1807. In 1812, parliament granted a charter to the Gas Light and Coke Company as the world’s first gas company and on December 31, 1813, the Westminster Bridge was fully lit using gas lights.
In 1816, the city of Baltimore brought the use of gas light to city streets in America. Other America cities would soon follow, with the White House being lit in 1848. The use of gas lighting spread through America like tight-rolled jeans in the 80’s and by 1914, considered by many gas light experts to be the peak year for “incandescent” gas lamps, lamp lighters were out in nearly every city street relighting the city’s gas lights.
Gas Light’s Decline
And just like a fad, the use of gas lighting began to decline as soon as it peaked. During the early 20th century, electric lights began to see a rise in popularity and most cities saw that you could light city street much more cheaply with electric lighting and quickly made the switch.In 1930, San Francisco dimmed its last gas light, putting an end to gas lighting in nearly every city in America.
A Resurgence and Death
The use of gas lights peaked again in the 1960’s with estimated sales surpassing 500,000 – far more than the original “peak” year of 1914. The 60’s saw an increase in the poplarity of outdoor living such as backyard barbecues and late-night parties. Unfortunately this resurgence in the popularity of gas lighting was to be short lived. In 1978, the federal government passed the Fuel Use Act (FUA) which completely extinguishedany use of gas lights in America.
A Slow Rebirth
The FUA was repealed by the US Government in 1987 and gas lights began to slowly make their way back to city streets and homes. Fortunately, with the help of utility companies, the sale of gas lights has been growing steadily each year since. The most successful areas today for gas light sales are where the local utility, such as builder sales, retail merchandisers or gas light relight programs, are involved in spurring public interest in gas lighting. Another factor in gas light popularity is the use of gas-saving and light dimming devices, such as electronic ignition gas lights and gas light regulators, which are a huge draw for the more energy-conscious consumers.
Today, natural gas and propane gas lights are popping up on homes all over America. Even some major cities are commissioning the use of gas lights in areas, such as Cincinnati’s residential neighborhoods, New Orleans’ French Quarter and South Orange New Jersey, where the gas light has been adopted as the town symbol.
Gas light sales continue to grow and do not look to be slowing any time soon. Aluminum gas lights are seeing a huge increase in popularity due to their afordability and durability to the elements, though today, the most popular types of gas light are the more “upscale” models, such as copper and brass, with open flame burners which have become more popular in commercial settings both indoors and out.