When Davenport Went Electric

At 6:00 pm on Saturday, September 19, 1891, The Davenport Gas Company flipped a switch to turn electric lights on for the first time in the city of Davenport.

Perceptions of electric light varied amongst the Davenport citizens. Many marveled at the beauty it brought to the dusk sky. Some residents found that the lights illuminated the city as never before witnessed with gas lighting: “[T]he city had the appearance last night of being dotted with diamonds of the most brilliant hue.” [1] Some were chagrined by how the lights altered their favorite spots in the city. Although a minority of residents were not fond of the electric lighting, their criticisms were eclipsed by the rejoicing masses.

A controversy arose on this triumphant day for electricity. Residents who continued to pay for gas services from the Davenport Gas Company would be required to do so at increased rates although the quality would remain the same. Unfortunately, at that time, gas quality was deemed poor.

Regardless of this, “‘All Hail the power of Electricity'” was the overriding sentiment. Electricity brought more than mere illumination to the city: a company with aspirations to provide high quality light services with the plans of installing the “finest, best and most expensive machinery that could be had for the purposes” was also introduced. [2]

The Daily Times, Sept. 21, 1891, p. 1

Electricity services were provided by the Davenport Gas and Electric Company for a number of years. Competing companies on both banks of the Mississippi River began to emerge. Across the river, the Moline and Watertown Railway Company and the Peoples Power Company of Rock Island served their residents. People interacted with electricity in more ways than lights, they also rode on streetcars.

Davenport Republican, Jan. 25, 1901, p. 5.

In 1907, the Peoples Light Company usurped the Davenport Gas and Electric Company’s spot as the primary electric company in Davenport. The latter, located at Third and Farnum Streets, has been operating since 1855 when George L. Davenport started the Davenport Gas-Light and Coke Company, formerly known as Charles Herrick & Company.

The Peoples Light Company doubled its capital in March of 1895. The board of directors included A.W. Vander Veer, Jens Lorenzen, J.S. Wylie, A. Burdick, George T. Baker, George W. Cable, and James F. Lardner. At this time, their offices were temporarily located in the Masonic Temple until the completion of a new building. Charles W. Young was selected to become the manager of the company. He had a list of accolades recommending him for the job, such as a graduation certificate from Rose Polytechnic school in Terre Haute, Indiana, and work experience at the Missouri Electric Light and Power Company of St. Louis. [3]

The Daily Times, June 13, 1907, p. 4.

While the companies from the period merged, the cities along this stretch of the Mississippi River benefited from the electric light they provided. Gas lighting was a thing of the past.

First Album of the City of Davenport, Iowa – Link to DPL catalog record

(posted by Kathryn and Cristina)


[1] “Electricity On,” Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), Sept. 21, 1891.

[2] “The New Lights,” Davenport Democrat, Sept. 20, 1891.

[3] “Peoples Light Company,” Davenport Democrat, Mar. 22, 1895.

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