When did electric power become "mainstream"?

I know there’s no single answer, but it seems to be surprisingly hard to get even a ballpark figure to this question: approximately when did electric power become a “standard feature” in reasonably sized towns/cities in the “developed world”? (I’m thinking mostly of the US and the UK).

I find a page (from the UK) saying that mains electricity was introduced in 1882, although it doesn’t say where. Wikipedia expands on this by saying that the town of Godalming (only a few miles from where I live!) was the first to have electric street lighting in 1881, with mains power following in London and in NY in 1882.

But presumably these were fairly pioneering supplies. What I really want to know is at what stage houses began to be built with electrical wiring and sockets as standard. Assuming the town in question had an electricity supply, would new houses being built in, say, 1910, likely have mains electricity as standard, or would people still have to get it installed especially?

I know the dates will vary a lot by area, but if anyone can dig up any links showing when various cities got powered up, that would be great.

Rural Electrification:

Somewhat surprisingly, one bellwether for rural electrification was mining towns of the old West. Since they often had ore processing mills along with the mines, they would set up generators and sell excess power to the surrounding community. See here for an example. The famous ghost town of Bodie is another example of a town that had electricity before 1900.

In “The Shootist”, set in 1901 Carson City, they had electricity, and from what I’ve seen that was an accurate portrayal. There’s a shot of John Wayne shutting off a table lamp, and whenever I see that, I think, Westerns aren’t supposed to have electric lamps! But apparently they did in some of the old towns.

I was just reading about the building of the Panama Canal (1904-1914) and how the locks were powered by electricity rather than steam. Apparently steam was still considered the conventional choice but electricity was the up and coming power source.

I’m not enamoured of the presentation but this timeline provided by CE Electric UK details some important milestones in the history of electricity, including:

According to another timeline:

This figure seems low to me but the assisted wiring scheme (5 shillings/25 pence/50 cents per 4 electric lights) clearly accelerated the growth of domestic electricity supply.

There’s a plethora of information here concerning Plymouth. In September 1899:

Lyme, as you will know, is not exactly a city but the link contains several details which you may find to be of interest, viz.:


Please note this post may not be short but it’s certainly circuitous.

Good links, Chez Guevara.

Good going, Una Persson, to read 'em all in 2 minutes. :wink:

Easy to do when you’ve got good lighting on the desk. :slight_smile:

I opened then up, looked at them, and liked what I saw, and what you quoted.

I had been looking for a similar set of links to answer the question, and had found one of them already, so I knew it was decent.

My friend from Pittsburgh tells me of a once-ritzy side of town where Andrew Carnegie lived along with his right hand man, the Fricks, and the Westinghouse family. Westinghouse was heavily involved in the eletrcification of America and/or mass production of electricity. During this time, everyone had natural gas lights although that was soon to change ala Westinghouse. Still, Frick believed it was just a passing fad. So, wehn Westinghouse brought electricity into the neighborhood, Frick kept his house lit by both gas and electric…just in case.

That’ll give you some indiciation when electricity was up and coming, anyhow.

  • Jinx

In the 1960s in Australia - well, according to The Simpsons. :smiley:

I’ve seen old photos of municipal ceremonies in Australian towns in the 1880s/1890s where the mayor was “turning on the electric light”. Fogeys: you should never refer to it as “electricity” but always “the electric light”. My family still calls the electricity bill the “light bill”.

The first home wirings were night and day compared to today’s wiring.

I bought a home built in 1940 with the original wiring. An overhead light in each room and one outlet per every other ROOM. But back then the main and sometimes only purpose was for lights. A few wealthier people could afford radios or electrical refrigerators.

By contrast, today’s homes have the capacity to run TV, stereo, central heat/AC, a host of kitchen appliances, computers, home offices, swimming pool pumps, etc.

My dad remembers the lights coming on in rural Georgia, and he was born in 1931. In other words, it depends on where you were.

I ask him and his sisters what it was like, and they say, “Brighter”. They don’t think “back then” was very interesting. Except that my uncle Donny who was a toddler had to stick his finger in a socket to find out what it was like.

I guessed as much, but your reputation is such that I’m totally convinced if anybody can read 4 links in 2 minutes it’s you.

Anyway, I surrender to your compliment because, as Ohm’s Second Law states, resistance is useless.

Futile, not useless.

Perhaps the OP should define “mainstream”. How about 67% of all households having access to electricity (2/3)? For the UK, that would appear to be about 1944, per CG’s links.

Well, my house was built in the 1960s (about 1964 I think) and the wiring is not a lot different from what you describe - one central overhead light per room, one or at most two sockets per room. Obviously we’ve added quite a few sockets, but to be honest it really needs rewiring altogether… th elighting circuit is the old unearthed type, for instance, which means that metal light fittings are not advisable.

It’s not exactly evidence but my extensive reading of 1920s and '30s who-done-its :smiley: suggests that electic lighting was the norm in city and town houses in England at this time but village and country properties were not connected to the grid - although they might have a private generator.