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Electric Light on the Wabash

By Mary Hill

Wabash, Indiana, may have been a small river town in the early 19th century, but its advancements in the field of electricity led it to become the "First Electrically Lighted City" in the world.

Following the invention of the light bulb in 1879, which brought light to homes, Charles F. Brush of Ohio came up with the idea of lighting streets and a whole city at night.

In 1880, Brush was in search of a town to test his new electric light arc, the "Brush Light." He approached the town of Wabash, and the City Council was not just receptive, but thrilled at the prospect of being a part of this groundbreaking experiment. In fact, the council provided the Brush Electric Light Company with $100 to support the endeavor.

A brand new courthouse had just been built for Wabash, and Brush envisioned light coming down from the courthouse and brightening up the whole town.

On March 31, 1880, 3,000 candle power lamps were installed by the Brush Light Company on the Wabash County Courthouse dome. The lamps were suspended from the flagstaff of the courthouse. Electricity for this initial test was provided by a six-horse-drawn steam engine.

Even though the population of Wabash was only 500, more than 10,000 people showed up to witness the initial test. They waited in awe to witness an event about to make world history. A burst of floodlights from the courthouse had lit up the whole town. Witnesses said they could see the lights as far as a mile from the courthouse. The citizens of Wabash  rightfully claimed their town as the "First Electrically Lighted City in the World."

Source: (WPTA21) James Beal

After the novelty of being the "First Electrically Lighted City in the World" wore off, residents near the courthouse started to complain about the flickering brightness caused by the intensity of 3,000 candlepower, which lasted until 2 a.m.

In addition, someone had to climb up the courthouse dome, open a hatch, and climb in to replace the carbon rods on the lamps. This was required every two weeks.

The Wabash community remained to be lit by the Brush Lights until September 1888.

Today, the courthouse displays one of the original 1880 Brush Lights. Visitors can view a piece of history and remember Wabash as a pioneer in the field of electricity.

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