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 Ave. 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 not available, there were gasoline street lights, with a small reservoir inside the light. What could go wrong?
Domenico Basso
The Chicago Tribune featured an article from August 9, 1947, featured 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 simply little 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. 

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