How Bengaluru became the first Asian city to get electric street lamps 115 years ago

electrification in bengaluru

In 1905, Bengaluru became the first city in Asia to adopt electric street lamps. Pic Credit: BPAC

We have come a long way from the days of paraffin or kerosene lamps. Though our grandparents may be familiar with these lighting relics, they are now relegated to occupying a small space in our storage or as a curio on display.

Days of kerosene street lamps

Kerosene street lamps were part of daily life in Bengaluru up till August 5, 1905. The task of cleaning, refuelling and lighting them was designated to three men appointed by the local administration. An inspector was also tasked to oversee the entire lighting operation in the city.

This Victorian-era practice of lighting street lamps daily had its old-world charm, but Bengaluru was on the hot trail of keeping up with the changes brought by the turn of the century. This is where we introduce the man responsible for making our city, the first city in Asia, to adopt electrical street lamps. 

Early steps for electrification

William McHutchin, a Briton trained in the Madras Civil Engineering College and the then-chief engineer of Bengaluru at the Public Works Department, wrote a letter to Krishna Raja Wodeyar IV, the Maharaja of Mysore, stating the need for electrifying Bengaluru.

He proposed diverting 300 to 400 HP of surplus power generated by the Shivanasamudra hydroelectric power station (which at the time was generating power for the Kolar Gold Fields), to light the city. After receiving the formal approval of the Maharaja on May 30, 1904, all cogs were in motion to make this landmark project a reality.

Electric street lamps inaugurated in 1905

With an estimated cost of Rs 7.46 lakh, the project first began in Kanakapura, with the installation of a switch station and the lines running around 92 km to the city being laid in just nine months. A substation was built near Victoria Hospital, with a transformer of 450KV capacity to receive power from Kanakapura for the project.

“The original Kanakapura station building still stands today next to the new one constructed much later,” says Gajanana Sharma, the author of ‘Belakayithu Karnataka’ (Illuminated Karnataka).

After nine months of laying the groundwork for the electrification project, Bengaluru witnessed its watershed moment in street lighting on August 5, 1905.

The ceremonious event was inaugurated by Sir John Hewett, member of the Viceroy’s Council, to a crowd of thrilled denizens at KR market. Over 100 electric street lamps lit up the Bengaluru skies that day.

Street lamps pave way for domestic electricity connections

The electric street lamps signalled the start of a new way of life for Bengalureans; domestic connections were promply adopted by affluent residents around KR Market. By June 1906, according to an official report of the Bangalore Power and Lighting Scheme, there were 861 streetlights, and 1,639 domestic connections that generated a revenue of Rs 36,476. A 16-candle bulb (today’s equivalent to 40 watts) cost the residents Re 1 (a hefty bill for the time) every month. 

One of the files from the Karnataka State Archives on the Bangalore Power and Lighting Scheme 1904-05, compiled by Major de Lotbinière, shows an annual maintenance expense of Rs 50,000 and an estimated annual income of over Rs 1.18 lakh. He foresaw a significant section of the Bengaluru population shifting to electric power as witnessed by the early adoption by residents since 1905.

Bengaluru, the frontrunner

Wrought iron electric street lamps were first erected in the city 115 years ago. Though not quite in their former glory, two of these original 30-foot lamp posts still exist in the BBMP head office at Corporation Circle. 

It may seem insignificant today, but these disregarded artefacts symbolise the very binding spirit of Namma Bengaluru, characterised by its forward-thinking and open-mindedness. At a time when the rest of Asia was in the “dark”, Bengaluru seized the helm of modernity and steered it all the way to our present while emerging as one of the world’s leading IT hubs. 

[The post was first published in the blogs of the Bengaluru Political Action Committee and has been republished with minimal edits. Read the original article here.]


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About B.PAC 1 Article
B.PAC (Bengaluru Political Action Committee) is a citizen's group that aims to improve governance and quality of life in Bengaluru.

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