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With our partner, The Connecticut Historical Society, WNPR News presents unique and eclectic view of life in Connecticut throughout its history. The Connecticut Historical Society is a partner in Connecticut History Online (CHO) — a digital collection of over 18,000 digital primary sources, together with associated interpretive and educational material. The CHO partner and contributing organizations represent three major communities — libraries, museums, and historical societies — who preserve and make accessible historical collections within the state of Connecticut.

Let There Be Light (in Hartford)

In 1881, over 1,000 gaslights lit 80 miles of streets in Hartford. The Hartford Electric Light Company began operations with a steam-powered electrical generating plant on Pearl Street on April 7, 1883, serving six customers with twenty-one arc lamps.  By the end of September 1888, a HELCO arc lamp had replaced the city’s last gas streetlight. 

Growth of the company was rapid and increased customer usage demanded a new motive of power. Edward Clinton Terry (grandson of Eli Terry) founded the Farmington River Power Company in 1890 to supply HELCO electricity. The company’s laboratory became the Oil City Generating Station, constructed on the Farmington River in the Rainbow section of Windsor Locks. By 1893, the eleven mile, three-phase transmission line to Hartford was heralded as the first long distance transmission of electricity.

When the company’s 266 Pearl Street offices were photographed in 1902, the building was the hub of a system that produced three thousand six hundred fifty horsepower to operate seventy-seven thousand incandescent lights and one thousand thirty four arc lights. The company had as its many assets Oil City, a second hydro plant at Tariffville (1899), and the steam plant at Pearl Street, which now housed the first steam turbine to be produced in America and installed in a public utility station, a 55-ton Westinghouse unit named “Mary-Ann.” The electrical inspector for the Hartford Board of Fire Underwriters noted at this time that Hartford was “far in the lead of any other city in the world in the use of electricity for light and power per capita.” In two decades, HELCO had thrust Hartford to the forefront of the electrical age.

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