As Brad DeLong has noted, we take for granted the spectacular technological advances of the last 200, and especially, the last 100 years. One of the more notable of these, the spread of electricity that allowed electric illumination, occurred around the year 1900.
We forget how electric illumination made cities safer, and increased our freedom to choose the timing of work and leisure activities.
The awe inspired by electric lights also usually has been forgotten, but is occasionally recalled. One good source is a segment of a documentary produced by UNO television in 1998, to mark the centennial of Omaha’s long-forgotten Trans-Mississippi Exposition.
I recently ran across another in viewing the closing scenes of the Judy Garland classic “Meet Me in St. Louis.” In the final scene, the family finally makes it to the St. Louis Fair, and observes the display of electric lights.
For DeLong’s comment, peruse the early pages of his marvelous draft:
DeLong, J. Bradford. “Cornucopia: The Pace of Economic Growth in the Twentieth Century.” NBER Working Paper w7602, March 2000.
The UNO documentary had the unfortunate title “Westward the Empire: Omaha’s World Fair of 1898.”