Posted by: Kchi (
Date: December 10, 2010 10:48AM

Just some thoughts and questions concerning about our early infrastructure, Would appreciate any answers or books or resources that cover the topic.

I grew up in a old building that had capped gas pipes protruding from the ceilings and walls that once were used for lighting.

When did the city connvert from gas to electric?

Was there a deadline when gas lighting was outlawed.

Did the electric companies wire the houses, or did the homeowers have to hire their own electrician?

Why since a good portion of the city have alleys, are the gas and sewer lines primarily run in the streets rather than the alleys?

Since most people were too poor to own horses, and until telephone and electric lines were run through the alleys, what purpose did the alleys serve?

When was the keeping of a horse outlawed?

Did the city ever haul away the waste from horses or were horse owners on their own?

Re: Gas,Electric,Alleys
Posted by: Cicero Ray (
Date: December 13, 2010 02:16AM

From what I heard from some old timers back in the 1980s:Gas lighting was replaced in the mid to late teens. It was also the home or building owners responsibility to have this done.Scarey thing, when I was rehabbing a build,one of the old gas lighting lines was still live. Luckily we were able to fix this before a fire would have start. Close one......

Re: Gas,Electric,Alleys
Posted by: davey7 (
Date: December 13, 2010 04:13PM

The building I grew up in was built in 1906 and had both gas and electric lighting installed from day one. I think some of it was still live until at least the 1940s when there were gas jets in the maids bathrooms. It's also possible that other parts of the gas lighting system were still active, since they were capped and untouched. There were also lines to the fireplaces, though no one had a working fireplace.

The installation was interesting; a trunk with tree-like branches for the gas and a more haphazard one for the electric - conduit from box to box (and some knob and tube as well). And of course, later home handyman 'upgrades', i.e. loose wire in walls and behind baseboards.

The electric went through the alley (or in my case, at the property line, since parts of the city don't have alleys) since they were considered unsightly. And also weren't city utilities like water. They alleys have been a huge boon to the city - trash is picked up through them, secondary access and of course, garages. Tradesmen used to use them, to delivery eggs and milk, ice and groceries, etc - as well as painters, carpenters, etc, etc...

Re: Gas,Electric,Alleys
Posted by: Kchi (
Date: December 14, 2010 08:51AM

The earliest article I could find about electric lighting in Chicago were articles in 1883. One mentions the Cook County Board talking about lighting the courthouse. The second article reports on how the new electric lights looked and were working in Lincoln Park.

In a Dec 30,1884 article it is reported that the controller of the city advertised for proposals to light city hall,streets,parks,tunnels and goes on to mention the the specifics of the equipment proposed to build a Edison plant.

In Jan 1886, another article reports on gigantic electric lamps being installed on the Board of Trade building that was uder costruction, the lights were installed and operated by the Sperry Light,Electric, Motor and Car Brake Company.
In the article it mentions that the gas lights were already lit in the streets, so the streets were still being lit by gas.

I know this will shock all the long time residents of Cook County, but the first article headlined DOLLARS THROWN AWAY in the Chicago Tribune Feb 12,1887 mentions that the "almost bankrupt" county gave out contracts in 1885 to the United States Lighting Company to light all the county buildings. Well in 1887 the bills were pouring in and surprise surprise it calls into question that the county was paying more than market price for the equipment and some equipment that was never used somehow had to keep getting replaced or at least the county was billed for replacements. It is reported that the cost of lighting the county buildings doubled while the quality of the lighting was no better and that even though there was electric lighting,gas lighting was still being used and the gas bills stayed the same.

123 years later, the people running the government change but the use of taxpayer's money and waste doesn't.

On May 7 1887 a article mentions that there were several electric companies operating in different parts of the city. Another shock, but the Gas Trust Company which apparently controlled the gas in the city, bought up the electric companies so they controlled both and had a monopoly of all the lighting. The final shock, is that shortly before taking over the electric companies, they raised the price of gas.

There is a article dated Nov 16,1892 announcing the construction of a Edison power plant to provide the first electric lighting for residents of the North Side. The plant was to be built adjacent to the Newberry Library and cover a area of by Lincoln Park on the North, Ohio on the South and Wells to the Lake.

As late as 1904. the city sold bonds to build a plant at Fullerton and the river to provide power to light the streets on the NW side and install 1500 lamps. When completed, the article mentions that the city would then have 5,580 street lights on 430 miles of streets.

Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 12/14/2010 09:52AM by Kchi.

Re: Gas,Electric,Alleys
Posted by: Erie St Danek (
Date: August 22, 2012 03:11PM

My dad was born 1915 living in West Town. He said if you wanted your electricity turned on there was an electric coin box installed on the wall you had to deposit money to turn it on. Anyone else hear of this?

Re: Gas,Electric,Alleys
Posted by: Lance Grey (
Date: August 22, 2012 05:10PM

As a kid helping on uncles & fathers' Plumbing & Electrician jobs, we'd often see out of service gas lines. Usually black and made of iron.

As to horses & alleys; I still see garages that were converted from stables.
Easy to spot with windows wide enough for horses to stick their heads out.

Re: Gas,Electric,Alleys
Posted by: daveg (130.36.62.---)
Date: August 22, 2012 06:42PM

Erie St Danek Wrote:
> My dad was born 1915 living in West Town. He said
> if you wanted your electricity turned on there was
> an electric coin box installed on the wall you had
> to deposit money to turn it on. Anyone else hear
> of this?

My dad was born in 1919 - south sider though. Never heard of the coin box you mentioned. Interesting concept.

Re: Gas,Electric,Alleys
Posted by: WDH74 (
Date: August 26, 2012 11:02PM

Lance Grey Wrote:
> As a kid helping on uncles & fathers' Plumbing &
> Electrician jobs, we'd often see out of service
> gas lines. Usually black and made of iron.

As a fun aside, the earliest electrical junction boxes (the "1900 box") was designed to be hooked up to existing gas lines, the idea being that the abandoned pipes would be used for wireways. Very occasionally you can still find vintage boxes hooked up to old gas lines.

Re: Gas,Electric,Alleys
Posted by: silliker (
Date: August 27, 2012 05:10AM

In developing a best interest of the person needed in making a best detailed and all the nearest electric ways.

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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/27/2012 05:12AM by silliker.

Re: Gas,Electric,Alleys
Posted by: jak378 (
Date: August 27, 2012 03:08PM

In the late 40's, early 50's we lived in the apartment above Kloekner's Florist at 5630 S.Ashland. The building had apparently been originally built using gas for illumination and then later converted to electricity. The large light in the front hall that led downstairs to the street had a fixture that was electric, but also had a pipe and handle on it. I turned it on once and there was the smell of gas. I got a match and lit it, and it worked. My mother wasn't real happy with that.

Interestingly enough, we also had a gas refrigerator, a Servel, if memory serves correctly. They were fairly common then

Re: Gas,Electric,Alleys
Posted by: WayOutWardell (63.226.79.---)
Date: August 28, 2012 02:54PM

The houses in my neighborhood were built when both gas and electric lighting were available - I discovered original gas lines and knob & tube wiring going to the same fixture spots (ceilings, wall sconces) while doing renovation work. In that same era, for a short time, there were combination gas/electric light fixtures - the gas arm pointed up and the electric arm pointed down.

Re: Gas,Electric,Alleys
Posted by: davey7 (
Date: August 29, 2012 06:14PM

In Britain you paid for gas via a penny meter, so electric wouldn't have been a stretch, though I don't remember hearing of it in the States.

I think I still have a piece of "dual conduit' from an old Christian Science church (better know to infiltrators and ue'er's as St. Stephens) which was a round conduit divided into two semi-circular halves, once half of which was for wire and the other half for gas. The fixtures were all dual mode in the building.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/29/2012 06:14PM by davey7.

Re: Gas,Electric,Alleys
Posted by: murphman (
Date: January 01, 2013 02:42AM

Have a Servel in my basement. They were very common and economical. Most people never heard of one and thought I was nuts! Use it now to store art supplies! They were used in large apartment buildings when natural gas was cheap. Boy things have changed.

Re: Gas,Electric,Alleys
Posted by: Jeff_Weiner (
Date: March 01, 2013 05:07PM

You may find some older City manholes and handholes with lids lettered for the "Bureau of Electricity and Gas".

Our apartment on the SW side had a Servel refrigerator. Quiet, but a pain to defrost.

Re: Gas,Electric,Alleys
Posted by: Jeff_Weiner (
Date: January 14, 2016 03:46AM


Re: Gas,Electric,Alleys
Posted by: Dunning1 (
Date: January 14, 2016 12:20PM

BTT again

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