Early Floodlighting Technology

Because I know less than you do about electricity and electric lighting, I’ve always been guiltily confused about the three or four 1878 experiments in football floodlighting. These took place, as you’ll recall, in London, Sheffield and Edinburgh.

Two aspects of the experiments had me puzzled. On the one hand, they took place just before the controversial Swan-Edison patents for the incandescent light bulb. As I was unaware of any pre-incandescent light bulb means to effect electric lighting, I had to imagine that pre-patent bulbs were being used. But how would any number of nineteenth century light bulbs provide sufficient illumination for a game being played on a 100yd pitch?

I’d guessed that I was wrong, and I imagined that there must have been an earlier and rather bright form available. But I’d never imagined anything like this:

Moonlight towerThere are more remarkable illustrations of this kind with the original article at Low-Tech Magazine.

It transpires that arc lighting had been understood in principle fifty years before the 1878 experiments. The hold-up (we might have had floodlit cricket at the Great Exhibition otherwise) was all to do with providing adequate electrical power.

That etching must at least resemble what was used in the early experiments – more indeed than the childishly crude engravings that survive of the experiments themselves. And at least it demonstrates that the early experiments had the chance to succeed, albeit by blinding everyone in a five mile radius.

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2 responses to “Early Floodlighting Technology

  1. Stone the crows! Knock me down with a feather duster! Doesn’t what must once have been entirely commonplace knowledge just evaporate in society? (Or, if you have a memory like mine, just evaporate in an individual.)

  2. James Hamilton

    I’m glad you say so, because those are my feelings entirely. The lucky citizens to be so illuminated must have needed blackout curtains. And what grand shadows a 300′ arc lamp must have thrown… If I ever come across a decent contemporary photograph of one in action, I’ll certainly post it (there are daytime pics of such things in 1890s Detroit on Shorpy.com this week, so it may be that they’ll come up with the goods. I hope so).