BUFFALO, N.Y.- In 1881 Buffalo was a boom-town, one of America's rising cities. Cynthia Van Ness of The Buffalo History Museum says "We were a powerhouse of innovation, industry, transportation, commerce, we really were."
The Queen City of the Great Lakes was the 8th largest city in the nation, and even though it was 15 years before Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse built the first hydro power plant in Niagara Falls, and 20 years before the Pan Am expo made the Queen City the City of Light, the bulb of innovation was already aglow.
Charles Brush was a pioneer in the development of arc lamps. In July 1881 the Brush Electric Light Company of Buffalo installed the first electric plant in Buffalo on Ganson Street along the City's waterfront, and by many accounts, created the first street in the country lit with electric lights. "Not a single, stand-alone light, but they were strung together, a series of them to light the entire street." Van Ness explains why Ganson Street was chosen. "Big industrial area in Buffalo, lots of railroads, lots of industry."
"So it makes sense that Ganson Street was chosen for this and not, say, Delaware Avenue, because you have railroads and industry and possibly night crews, and your business would function a whole lot better if those people had better illumination."
A 30-hp steam engine drove a generator which produced the power for twelve carbon arc lights extending a mile along the street,
powering the first electrically lit street in Buffalo and, depending on how you look at it, the country.
Van Ness explains "The truth is a little harder to nail down, I found other cities claiming earlier the 1881 that they had electric street lights. So New York, Cleveland, Newark, Philadelphia, all have claims earlier than the 1880's that they were using electric streetlights. Now whether they were strung up in a series to light up an entire street, or if they were just a few stand alone, i don't really know." But according to many reports, Cleveland marked the first use of electric street lights, in it's Public Square in 1879. The distinction for Ganson Street appears to be that it is the first Street in the country illuminated with a series of light; a dozen lamps, strung in a row, shedding light on not only this industrial hub, but also one of the Unknown Stories of WNY