When you think of the Nineteenth Century, images of darkened streets with imposing street lamps and devious characters might come to mind. Unfortunately, for how innovative their purpose was, these antique street lights did very little to help ‘light the way’ for these past societies, as they only emitted a soft, fuzzy glow in their immediate vicinity. Take a look at where these still present architectural fixtures began and their unique evolution into the tools that we take for granted today.

Gas Street Lights Emerge
Surprisingly, by the early 19th century, both parts of western Europe and the United States had begun establishing gas lighting across their city streets, but the rudimentary lights only illuminated a few feet around the lamps themselves. Since these lights were powered by gas, some communities relied on lamplighters to ensure that their lights were all turned on at the same time and stayed lit throughout the night. Yet, British engineer Frederick Hale Holmes’ 1846 arc lamp patent and Russian inventor, Pavel Yablochkov’s, ‘electric candles’ brought the world into the age of electric street lighting.

Electric Street Lights Take Over
At the Paris Exposition of 1878, the ‘Yablochkov candles’ amazed the crowds, and soon Paris began converting its gas-lit street lights into electric systems. The western world followed, and with the introduction of Thomas Edison’s carbon filament lightbulb, electric lighting became the customary lighting style used on city streets in the 19th century.

Types of Antique Street Lights
Antique street lamps come in a wide variety of styles, but they generally come in about three different kinds of forms. If you were walking around in the 19th century, you’d find all of these forms mixed in with one another across the world:

Utilitarian: These lights were solely used for the purpose of lighting the streets themselves and hung from wires.
Electroller: This describes street lights which are built to be free standing and it embodies most of the lamps that people think of when they think of street lighting.
Wall Mounted: You could also find street lamps that aren’t attached to a light pole, but rather have been mounted onto the outside walls of buildings lining the streets to help illuminate the areas that the street lights themselves couldn’t reach.

Antique Street Light Designs and Styles
Over the course of a hundred years, street lights have undergone a multitude of changes. Advancing technology and shifts in design led to a wealth of varied looking street lights across the western world. Check out the street light’s evolution from the mid-19th century through the rest of the century.

Read more: Antique Street Lights: An Illuminating Collector’s Guide

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