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Catalog Data

Cast iron, brass, paint
107 in. (271.8 cm)
ca. 1883
Victorian (1837-1901)
Cast-iron lamppost from the Brooklyn Bridge. The lamppost features a Victorian design and details and includes a solid brass ladder post and iron mounting finial attached to a chain and key. Gas arc lighting, also known as carbon arc lamps, was the first form of lighting used for the Brooklyn Bridge which opened May 24, 1883. In the 1940s the posts were fitted globe-style lamps called “gumball” luminaires, and in the 1980’s close replicas of these posts were installed, with stronger mercury lumes.
Label Text:
A lamppost, streetlight, streetlamp, or light pole is an elevated source of light meant to illuminate a road or path. The discovery of coal gas and its uses led to the earliest widespread system of street lighting, which used pipelines to deliver this fuel source throughout the area. Following its successful introduction in Europe, gas lighting was introduced to the United States. Baltimore was the first American city to employ gas streetlights as early as 1816, and gas had become the dominant form of both street and home illumination in the United States by the Civil War. With the advancements and improvements in street lighting, public spaces could be enjoyed late into the evening in the nineteenth century. In addition to city streetlights, many churches, businesses and private owners installed their own lampposts. Because of the flammability of gas, city authorities required a safe, durable metal to employ it. Cast iron was chosen as the best material for lampposts and gas pipes because it was nonflammable, inexpensive, and easy to mass produce. Like other cast iron fixtures in the nineteenth century, lampposts were used as an adjunct to the architecture, accessorizing buildings and increasing their curb-appeal. Following the styles from Europe, designs were often elaborate and sculptural, some having applied, wrought-iron details. By the 1890s, electricity was being incorporated into city’s infrastructure. Incandescent lamps gradually replaced gas street lighting as cities switched over their sources of power. In 1914, incandescent street lighting was adopted in New York City, but it would take years to completely convert over to the new system. Gas lights continued to be used in parts of Brooklyn until 1927-28, before being replaced by modern electrical streetlights.
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Credit Line:
Smithsonian Gardens, Horticultural Artifacts Collection.
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Horticultural Artifacts Collection
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Smithsonian Gardens