Nearly a century ago, street lighting technology was undergoing a revolution that produced more brilliant output with less maintenance than previous lamps. At the same time, according to “The New Street Lighting” in the June 1910 issue of The American City, there was a movement to light up the streets — particularly in central business districts — in ways that had not previously been practiced except for in times of celebration. Article author E. Leavenworth Elliott attributed the movement's origin to the “magnificent spectacles produced by the illumination” at the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893, and he doubts if “any public improvement ever obtained so nearly the proportions of a general ‘fad’ as the present move for this kind of public lighting. It is comparable to the craze for roller skating which swept over the country about a quarter of a century ago.”

Images of street light fixtures illustrated many of the magazine's early articles that detailed communities' strategies in city planning, economic development and general governance. Street lighting was emerging as a sign of a city's progressiveness and enterprise. In the May 1911 article “The Development of Des Moines,” author Ray Weirick, a Des Moines, Iowa, landscape architect, boasted that the city's business district was lit better “than is seen even in the celebrated Place de la Concorde at Paris, said to be the best lighted square in Europe.” And, a December 1911 article mentioned that Warren, Ohio, was the first city in the United States to use solely Mazda tungsten lighting for its streets, replacing its previous open arc lamps, because they were more efficient.

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