Gaslights preceded electric lights by several
decades. The first gaslights were used in about 1792 with manufactured
gas. Public street lights were introduced in 1807 in London. Use of
natural gas began about 1820 in New York. By the end of the 19th
century, gaslights were used extensively.
Gaslights had to be lighted manually using a small
torch on a long pole. They were lighted in the evening and turned off
later in the evening or in the morning by “the old lamplighter”. Later,
when the price of natural gas became cheap, the manual gaslights were
left burning 24 hours per day; this is still being done today where
manual gaslights are used.
When electric lights became available they were not
deemed to be reliable, so gaslights were installed as back-up in case
the electric lights failed. This is very evident in the
James J. Hill house which was completed in 1891 in St. Paul,
Minnesota, where electric lighting was installed using a generator
(which was not always working) to provide electricity. Gaslights were
also installed as well for indoor lighting, in case the electricity
failed. People did not trust this new form of “electric” energy and felt
more comfortable with the gas lighting. The gas lights had to be light
individually and were open flame burners that provided very little
During the first half of the 20th
century, electric lighting essentially replaced gas lighting; some
locations still maintain gaslights for nostalgic or aesthetic purposes.
In the 1960’s Minnegasco, the local gas company in Minneapolis, sold and
installed over 70,000 gaslights, mainly for yard lighting purposes.
Then, in 1974, there was an energy crisis and a shortage of natural gas,
so the Minnesota legislature decreed that all gaslights should be turned
off. This restriction remained for over 25 years until the code was
changed such that gaslights can again be used if burned only at night.
Now, with the advent of the automatic gaslight
igniter (which turns the gaslight ON at dusk and OFF at dawn); gaslights
can again be used in Minnesota. With the exception of
Wisconsin, most other states allow gas lighting and do not have
restrictions on burning gaslights during the day. The automatic igniter
still is a worthwhile addition to their gaslight as it saves 50% on the
amount of gas used. The manual gaslight can be automated, using the
Knightlighter™ battery operated igniter/burner, which plugs in to the
present gaslight and can be exchanged as easily as changing a light