The earliest lamps were used by Greek and Roman civilizations, where light primarily served the purpose of security, both to protect the wanderer from tripping over something on the path as well as keeping the potential robbers at bay. At that time oil lamps were used predominantly as they provided a long-lasting and moderate flame. The Romans had a word ‘laternarius’, which was a term for a slave responsible for lighting up the oil lamps in front of their villas. This task continued to be kept for a special person as far as up to Middle Ages where the so-called ‘link boys’ escorted people from one place to another through the murky winding streets of medieval towns.
Before incandescent lamps, candle lighting was employed in cities. The earliest lamps required that a lamplighter tour the town at dusk, lighting each of the lamps, but later designs employed ignition devices that would automatically strike the flame when the gas supply was activated. The earliest of such street lamps were built in the Arab Empire,1 especially in Córdoba, Spain, Cairo, Egypt, and Baghdad, Iraq ( around 1000 AD ).2 The first modern street lamps, which used kerosene, were introduced in Lviv in what was then the Austrian Empire in 1853.
The first electric street lighting employed arc lamps, initially the ‘Electric candle’, ‘Jablotchkoff candle’ or ‘Yablochkov candle’ developed by the Russian Pavel Yablochkov in 1875. This was a carbon arc lamp employing alternating current, which ensured that both electrodes were consumed at equal rates. Yablochkov candles were first used to light the Grands Magasins du Louvre, Paris where 80 were deployed—improvement which was one of the reasons why Paris earned its “City of Lights” nickname. Soon after, experimental arrays of arc lamps were used to light Holborn Viaduct and the Thames Embankment in London – the first electric street lighting in Britain. More than 4,000 were in use by 1881, though by then an improved differential arc lamp had been developed by Friedrich von Hefner-Alteneck of Siemens & Halske. The United States was quick in adopting arc lighting, and by 1890 over 130,000 were in operation in the US, commonly installed in exceptionally tall moonlight towers.
The first street in the UK to be lit by electric light was Mosley Street, in Newcastle upon Tyne. The street was lit by Joseph Swan’s incandescent lamp on the 3rd February, 1879.34 The first in the United States, and second overall, was the Public Square road system in Cleveland, Ohio, on April 29, 1879.5 Wabash, Indiana holds the title of being the third electrically lit city in the world, which took place on February 2, 1880. Four 3,000 candlepower Brush arc lamps suspended over the courthouse rendered the town square “as light as midday.”6 Kimberley, South Africa, was the first city in the Southern Hemisphere and in Africa to have electric street lights – first lit on 1 September 1882 .7 In Latin America, San Jose, Costa Rica was the first city, the system was launched on August 9, 1884, with 25 lamps powered by a hydroelectric plant.8 Timişoara, in present-day Romania, was the first city in mainland Europe to have electric public lighting on the 12 of November 1884. 731 lamps were used. On 9 December 1882, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia was introduced to electricity by having a demonstration of using eight arc lights, erected along Queen Street. The power to supply these arc lights was taken from a 10 hp Crompton DC generator driven by a Robey steam engine in a small foundry in Adelaide Street and occupied by J. W. Sutton & Co. The lamps were erected on cast iron standards, 20 ft in height. In 1888 Tamworth, New South Wales, Australia became the first location in Australia to have electric street lighting, giving the city the title of “First City of Light” Read more