Friday, December 13, 2019

Chicago streetlamps; when was the last gas streetlight extinguished?

Chicago introduced gas lamps in the 1850s, but by 1898, the city had already decided to replace them with new electric streetlights. Because of the cost and complexity of building new electric lines and circuits, the update took half a century to be completed, so the lamps that were still around in the early 1950s had been installed before 1900.

The last eighteen gas streetlights in Chicago were lit on June 4, 1954, on the east side, on Escanaba Avenue between 95th and 99th, to be precise. As recently as the 1940s, there were thousands of gas street lights in Chicago. Where gas lines were unavailable, gasoline street lights with a small reservoir inside the light. What could go wrong?
Domenico Basso
The Chicago Tribune featured an August 9, 1947 article featuring Domenico Basso lighting a street lamp at 59th and Cicero. Basso was one of fewer than twenty lamplighters still working in the 1940s.
The map indicates street lighting conditions in 1947 Chicago.
Lamplighters became dinosaurs even before electricity because the gas lamps had pilot lights with timers and igniters inside. The timers were simple clocks that needed to be rewound once a week. Lamplighters were still needed for those gasoline lamps. The lamplighter would come by every night, refill the lamp with gasoline, and light it with a blowtorch. 

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 


  1. That must have been a amazing time. Wish I could have been around to see it.

  2. When I was a little girl, I lived in Morgan Park so. Of Chicago. There was still Alamo lighter coming around our neighborhood in the thirties and forties

  3. I remember seeing gas street lights in Chicago in the 1950s. South of 119th street. East of Vincennes.
    Arlington Hts had a few newly installed gas lights in the 1960s and 70s.

  4. I remember gas lighters as a kid in the late 40's/early 50's - lived at 136th & Indiana Avenue. area.

  5. I remember the lamp lighter coming every night to 115th and the Rock Island line. That's how I knew it was time to go to bed. 1940's.


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