The ends of two wires attached to a powerful battery are called poles. When these poles are brought together and then separated a short distance, the current of electricity jumps across the space, and fills it with intense light. Now this light is so very hot that it will melt the hardest metals, and even the diamond. So something harder than metal is made, called carbon, and placed in holders connected with the wires, and then this carbon forms the poles. The light is found to arise chiefly from the white-hot tips of the carbon rods, and from an arch of flame which spreads from one to the other, and through which little pieces of white-hot carbon pass over from one point to the other. This light can now be used to light our streets or our rooms, or the miner may carry it with safety into the dangerous mines, or the diver down into the sea. It also is used in some of our lighthouses.
Uncle Jonathan, Walks in and Around London, 1895
In the candle or gas-lit 1890s, electricity was a novelty that interested everyone, so the name ‘Electric’ was an excellent buzzword for marketing a new product. It became a popular model name for bicycles in Britain and America.
During the 18th and 19th century the nights were a painfully dim place to be. Apparently, lighting in London was so poor in 1763 that James Boswell was able to have sex with a prostitute on Westminster Bridge. Gas lighting was introduced in the mid-nineteenth century – as late as the 1930s, in London, almost half of the streets lamps still used gas. But a gas street lamp only illuminated a few feet around its post.
The use of electricity for lighting began with a British engineer named Frederick Hale Holmes who, in 1846, patented an electric arc lamp and with Michael Faraday pioneered the electrical illumination of lighthouses in the 1850s and 60s. Arc lighting was found too complicated and expensive for domestic purposes but was exceedingly bright and was used to illuminate St Enoch’s railway station in Glasgow.
The British physicist Joseph Swann is credited with the invention of the carbon fibre filament incandescent lamp, though the filament did not last for long when used. In 1865 Hermann Sprengel, a German chemist, invented the Sprengel pump: when this pump was applied to Swann’s glass chambers the air could be reduced to one-millionth of its normal volume, which allowed the filament to glow for hundreds of hours.
Although Swann is credited with the creation of the electric light, Thomas Edison, America’s premier inventor, succeeded in the much larger and more challenging ambition of creating, producing and supplying it on a grand commercial scale. The arrival of electricity to households was an extraordinary innovation. At first, people didn’t know how to use it – warning signs advised them not to approach the electric socket with a match.
1895 ‘Electric’ Lightweight Road Racer
1894 ELECTRIC CYCLE CO
Salop St, Birmingham, England
The advert above, from 1894, illustrates an ‘Electric’ made by a British company. Being an 1894 cycle, it has an ‘upsloping’ frame rather than the ‘horizontal’ frame of 1895 onwards.
Uncle Jonathan with thanks to – http://www.victorianlondon.org/lighting/electriclight.htm