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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Water Power

Water Power

GRHC - October 28th, 2009

Grand Rapids Historical Commission and the Community Media Center present "Glance at the Past". Today we learn of GR's first night of electric light.



On July 24th, 1880, Grand Rapids became the first city in the country to use water power to generate electricity for lighting. The Grand Rapids Electric Light and Power Company connected a dynamo to a waterwheel for the Wolverine Chair Factory located at Pearl and Front St. on the west bank of the Grand River. The installation powered 16 brush-arc lamps.

In addition to lighting the Wolverine plant, several businesses on the east side of the river participated: Sweet’s Hotel, Spring & Co., Preusser’s Jewelry Store, and Power’s Opera House to name a few.

As noted in the Grand Rapids Eagle, “The light was a grand success, strong, steady, white and uniform. It called thousands of people on to the streets and into places lighted by it, and it was admired and enjoyed by all.

Some complained that it was too bright and made their eyes ache and dazzled them; but such had looked directly at the light. When they become more accustomed to the light they will not think of gazing at the lanterns any more than they now do at the sun.”

The paper also reported that if more people made use of the lights another generator would be put in. It was noted that the lights, like the telephone, were not sold and the charge for them was $120 per year—not a small charge in 1880. One year later, in 1881, twelve electric streetlights were installed on Monroe and Canal St.


Full Details

TitleWater Power
KeywordsGlance at the Past, water power, electricity, radio, WYCE, Grand Rapids, Historical Commission
Pubdate StringOctober 28th, 2009

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