Do you ever sit and wonder about a world before electricity? Every day, we rely on electricity and take it for granted. It runs our computers, cooks our dinner (in some cases), charges our devices, and allows us to see in the dark. Of course, electricity hasn’t always been available, and gas lamps were previously used for lighting. But how were they invented?
If you can imagine it, London Mayor Sir Henry Barton in the 15th century ordered all citizens to hang lamps outside their homes when the sun went down every evening. Over a century later, people living in Paris also had to hang lamps during the night. These weren’t just recommendations; they were passed into law.
However, the light that emitted from lamps back in those days was nearly non-existent. Eventually, a man named William Murdoch decided to test the flammable nature of gasses. While working in Soho Foundry, Murdoch soon learned that coal gas was the best option because it emitted the most light.
After running various tests, he decided to finally put his hard work to good use and lit his home using coal gas. This first experiment came in 1792, and it’s widely considered to be the very first example of gas lamps.
Despite his discovery, it took six years for the Soho Foundry to ask Murdoch to light its main building using this technique. After another four years, he lit the outside of the building in a public presentation. By that time, Philip Lebon was already lighting his house using a similar system in Paris.
In 1807, fifteen years after Murdoch first started experimenting with different gases, Pall Mall in London used gas lamps to light the whole street. Lamps were placed inside posts along the street and gas was delivered to these posts to create the lighting. Every night, gasworkers would light the lamps and then put them out again in the morning.
Once we reached the 20th century, most of the United States and Europe used gas lamps in the street. If it hadn’t been William Murdoch, it almost certainly would have been somebody else, but the dissemination of information was slow in the 18th and 19th centuries compared to what we can expect these days.
In the 21st century, gas lamps no longer exist in streets because of the progression of electricity. No government workers need to manually light lamps in the evening or extinguish them in the evening. However, gas lamps are still present in many areas of historical importance. Elsewhere, those who like to go camping will also use this traditional technique to light the way in the evenings.
Just like Abeille candles have been through several stages of evolution, so too did the gas lamp many years ago. The good news in the 19th century was that crime rates dropped because of the lighting available on most streets. What’s more, lighting prevented injuries and allowed people to travel safely after dark.
This being said, the invention of gas lamps also had a negative side. Unfortunately, the companies that were supposed to make and maintain gas lamps weren’t regulated, and there were no laws in the industry. Therefore, they decided to save money by not maintaining the infrastructure at all. Eventually, this led to suffocations, fires, leaking pipes, explosions, and low pressure.
As we all know, electricity soon grew in popularity and became the method of choice not only on streets but also in homes. It was more effective, efficient, and easier to maintain.