This post is part of a monthly series that explores the historical applications of building materials and systems through resources from the Building Technology Heritage Library (BTHL), an online collection of AEC catalogs, brochures, trade publications, and more. The BTHL is a project of the Association for Preservation Technology, an international building preservation organization.

Streetlighting is a critical component of any urban landscape providing illumination for circulation, ambiance, and security in outdoor environments. And while LEDs have become the gold standard for new streetlighting technology, cities around the world once relied on gas, carbon arc, and incandescent lamps to light their streets.

Below, the BTHL chronicles the evolution of streetlighting design and technology from the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Globe Gas Light Co. of Boston, 1877
When this catalog was published, Globe Gas’ “vapor burner” streetlights were operating in more than 500 towns across the country. The lantern-style fixtures were offered in tin, copper, or brass with iron or wood posts.

The Edison Light, The Edison Co. for Isolated Lighting, New York, 1883
This publication offers both descriptions of the lighting systems offered—arc and incandescent lamps—as well as safety disclaimers given the newness of the technology. “The light, although bright and clear, is not injurious to the eyes, even if used close to them.”

Read more: A Visual History of Streetlighting from the 19th and 20th Centuries

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