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Municipal Electric Street Lights Come to Wheeling, 1892

-from "History of Greater Wheeling and Vicinity," Wingerter, Charles A., 1912, p. 272-273.

Barely thirty years have elapsed since electricity was first used in this city for lighting purposes. To many citizens the first knowledge of Edison’s invention of the electric light came in reading the issue of the Intelligencer dated April 1, 1879, which tells of Edison using his lights in his workshop at Menlo Park. “It may happen,” says the editor, “that even in Wheeling, while the city owns the works, that the consumers of gas will be obliged to wait for Edison’s machine to come along and give them cheap light.”

In the next two or three years electric lighting made rapid progress in many cities of the country. The first proposition to introduce the invention in Wheeling came from the Brush Electric Company of Cleveland, through a local concern. The council in March, 1882, passed the necessary ordinance for the erection of poles and conducting business. A little later the Wheeling Electric Light Company took up the project, using what was called the “Fuller patent.” The dynamo was placed in the shop of A. J. Sweeney & Son on Twelfth street, and was first used to supply light to a few private customers, the first subscriber being J. W. Grubb, the jeweler, who had one light.

The first practical demonstration was made on September 13, 1882. “Last night must mark an era in the history of the city as the night on which for the first time the electric light shone in actual service in our business houses.” Many people gathered to witness this strange form of illumination, and some marveled and some ridiculed, while some accepted it with the indifference of the modern mind.

Mr. Sweeney and his associates organized the Wheeling Electrical Company, and under ordinance from the city extended the use of electric lighting among the business houses and private homes. In 1887 a new franchise was granted this company. However, this corporation did not supply electricity for lighting the streets of the city.

By act of the legislature, February 17, 1891, the city was authorized to erect or purchase a plant for the generation of electricity and distribute the same for the lighting of streets and stores and houses. But provision was made that, before the city could furnish electricity for private consumers, it must purchase the plant of the Wheeling Electrical Company. This act was again enacted with similar provisions in 1901. Thus the city was given permission to own and operate a municipal electric plant for lighting the streets and other public places. The purchase of the Wheeling Electrical Company’s plant was not made, so that the city plant up to the present time has been restricted in its operation. The city electric light plant was first put in operation on April 17, 1892.

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