People Had To Be Convinced of the Usefulness of Electricity | Smart News | Smithsonian
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People Had To Be Convinced of the Usefulness of Electricity

When electricity came around, it wasn't immediately seen as a necessity

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Today, electricity is a ubiquitous part of many people’s lives. But, of course, it wasn’t always this way. And when electricity came around, it wasn’t immediately seen as a necessity. In fact, electricity companies had to convince people that their product was useful.

Here’s an ad from the New York Tribune on October 5th, 1920, explaining the benefits of electricity:

What it says:

Never before have the questions of economy and efficiency in production been of such importance as now in the industrial life of the country. This is true in the large plant as all as in the small shop. Electricity is proving the most effective agency in solving these various problems as they arise.

The ad goes on to make the case for the use of electricity. With electricity, business owners can light a shop and factory in order to prevent accidents, increase output or help ventilate a room. The direct application of power to a machine increases efficiency, it says, and reduces the amount of heavy, exhausting labor.

In 1920, electricity wasn’t something that many people thought they needed, says the Library of Congress. New York Edison still had to push businesses to adopt not just their technology, but the technology of electricity to begin with.

They also had to outshine the competition. By 1900, there were 30 electricity companies in the New York City area. In 1920, New York Edison built a brand new power generation facility that could generate 770,000 kilowatt-hours. For reference, the city of New York City now uses about 100,000 kilowatt-hours per minute. 

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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