Before Street Lights, Cities Built Giant Moon Towers
Cities, of course, have street lights, with poles or lamps every few dozen yards. This type of lighting goes back centuries: Before we had electricity, we lit streets pretty much the same way, only using gas lamps instead of light bulbs. But that doesn't mean this is the only way to light streets up.
Imagine that instead of a bunch of different lamps, we have one giant one, on a tower 150 feet tall. It would use a special type of tech called arc lighting, which is more efficient than ye olde incandescent bulbs but can't work indoors because it's just too bright. The goal is to illuminate the area the same way the Moon does, with all light coming from a single source. Only, it would be brighter than moonlight. It would be like a brilliant, supermoon (or, we guess, a kind of lame sun).
The idea sounds futuristic—or at least retro-futuristic, because it sounded like the way of the future back in the 19th century. That was when cities like Detroit and New Orleans actually built these "moonlight towers." They went with the spectacular and terrifying option rather than a bunch of little lamps because 1) they thought that giant moon towers would be really cool, and 2) wiring lots of little lamps is hard. You have to build a circuit that connects every one of them individually, which seemed way too hard of a task back in the early days of electricity.
People liked the moon towers, but they did come with problems. The way the light came so strongly from a single point meant stark and sudden shadows, so for the towers to really work, you needed an area without any other tall buildings at all. They also drove birds nuts. Plus, it turned out that even a 150-foot tower with the power of 6,000 candles could only send its light so far, so cities would have to build scores of towers to light the whole place up.
When people calculated the cost of building tower after tower, suddenly, returning to smaller street lights—wired using some kind of "electrical grid"—sounded like the easier option after all. Today, you can still find some of the old moonlight towers preserved in Austin, Texas, but most cities got rid of theirs. Sometimes thanks to angry townsfolk pulling them down. And other times (on at least two occasions), towers got knocked down by being slammed into by angry mules.
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Top image: Julian Oliver Davidson