On the evening of 8 July, 1904, the lives of Sydneysiders were changed forever when the Lady Mayoress of Sydney, Olive Lees, turned a switch-key at the powerhouse in Pyrmont.
“I have much pleasure in switching on the electric light for the city of Sydney,” she announced to the small group of government officials, engineers and professionals who had gathered in the rain to witness the birth of Sydney’s electric era.
“I trust it will be a boon to the citizens and an encouragement to the enterprise of the City Council,” said Lees as the electric current was transmitted to 343 arc lamps in the inner city just after dusk, at 5pm.
From Circular Quay to Redfern Railway Station, and from Hyde Park to Darling Harbour, the city was aglow with electric-powered light for the first time.
Sydney’s first power supply
For more than half a century prior, the city had been lit by gas-powered lamps.
These produced about 40 candlepower of light each. At busy intersections, the strongest gaslights shone at 400 candlepower.
“There is no comparison between the old and the new style of lighting,” reported the Sydney Morning Herald on 9 July 1904, the day after the electric arc lights were switched on – each shining at 2000 candlepower.
“Gaslights have been completely overshadowed by the brilliance of the new electric arcs,” the paper reported.
The city was transformed. “What was particularly noticeable was the marked difference the more powerful light made in certain streets, which at night [had] hitherto presented a somewhat gloomy appearance,” reported the Sydney Morning Herald.
“In Bridge Street the lamps have been arranged along the centre of the road, owing to the splendid width of the thoroughfare; and last night the row of powerful lights looked remarkably well. In Moore Street…the light was equally brilliant.”
Scudder’s American Museum, in the former NYC poor house (via NYPL)
One of the first museums to draw the crowds in Manhattan was Scudder’s American Museum, which ran from 1810 to 1841.
First lodged in the city’s former almshouse, it was started by John Scudder with the acquisition of some smaller museum collections, including the Baker’s American Museum.
Eventually it relocated to a five-story building at Broadway and Ann Street, where patrons could pay a small price to see an 18-foot live snake, taxidermy dioramas, a two-headed lamb, magic lantern slides, bed sheets from Mary, Queen of Scots, and some macabre curios like a wax figure cut by a guillotine.
It was even open until 9 pm, to wander by candlelight.
As P. T. Barnum wrote in 1869: “People in all parts of the country had sent in relics and rare curiosities; sea captains, for years, had brought and deposited strange things from foreign lands; and besides all these gifts, I have no doubt that the previous proprietor had actually expended, as was stated, $50,000 in making the collection.”
In fact, Barnum was so impressed with the museum, he decided to buy it and transform it into the greatest spectacle the city had known.