Friday, July 20, 2007

Gardens of Glowing Electrical Flowers (1900)

From October 11 until December 27, 1900 the New York Observer ran a series of eight letters by a man named Augustus. He was reporting from the Paris Exposition of 1900. The second installment of the series, which ran October 18th captures the wonder of seeing a city engulfed in electric light and the hope for harnessing that revolutionary power in the future.

When the five thousand lamps on the Chateau d’Eau are lighted, and the thousands of other incandescent lights placed in the aisles and corridors, flame out, and when on a gala night, hundreds of trees are covered with electrical fruits, and the gardens filled with glowing electrical flowers, while every outline and arch and symbol on the towers and domes and minarets, from the lofty Eiffel tower to the kiosks on the lakes and the grottoes and caves of the aquarium, glows with the electric fire, one realizes as never before, how great a mastery man has acquired over this strange and powerful agent, and wonders what marvels and glories are reserved for us, by its means in the future.

To borrow a phrase from writers that would come much later, Augustus uses commas like other men use periods. Passages like the one above help those like me truly appreciate what it means to be in awe of technology.

We often throw around words like "revolution" when describing new technologies such as the iPhone or the Internet in general, and there is no doubt that they have and will make a profound impact on society, but it is important to place them in the context of what life was like before the world saw artificial, electrical light on such a grand scale.

The photo of 1900 Paris at Night is from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.

See also:
Moving Sidewalk (1900)
Moving Sidewalk Mechanics (1900)

1 comment:

Steve Muhlberger said...


Have you ever been to Greenfield Village in Dearborn MI, where Henry Ford relocated Edison's Menlo Park research complex while Edison was still alive?

It's like a holy shrine to the good advances that would make the humane parts of the 20th century. (No weaponry.)

Edison lighted up his complex -- much smaller of course than Paris -- in the 1870s.