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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Power and Light: 1904

Power and Light: 1904

Circa 1904 somewhere in North America. "Switchboard in dynamo room." (UPDATE: Also seen here.) 8x10 inch glass negative. View full size.

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Knob & Tube

Wouldjah look at the "Knob & Tube" wiring up on the wall?

Pretty but dangerous

Those old slate switchboards were a work of art but very dangerous. When operating the switches you had to be very careful to touch only the small insulated handle. The slightest contact with the exposed metal parts could be fatal. And even if you were careful you could still get flash burns from an arc as the contacts open. These days switches are required to be enclosed in boxes and even then protective "flash suits" are often worn when operating them.

Polished Slate Switchboard

The switchboard on the left is constructed with sheets of highly polished black slate held in metal frames, recognizable to me from a similar and much larger switchboard installation in the old San Diego Fire Alarm building. Heavy slate panels were used as non-conducting mounts for high voltage switches, voltage regulators, gauges and other electrical devices.

This photo is very similar to an illustration in the 1902 first edition of "Handbook for the Use of Electricians in the Operation and Care of Electrical Machinery and Apparatus of the U.S. Seacoast Defenses," published by the War Department in 1902, with a second edition in 1904. The book includes descriptions and specs for the construction of power houses for electrical searchlights, which could also have been the function of this setup. Page 56 neatly describes the installation seen here. The entire manual is available online here.

Reminds me

Reminds me of the powerhouse at Lock 7 on the Erie canal when I worked there. Originally the dynamo/generator was run by a water turbine, but when I was working there in 1998 it had long since been changed to be run by an AC motor. All the Lock motors that ran the gates and valves were still DC so it was a quick and easy way of converting AC to DC.


That's called "emergency lighting", for when the dynamo stops!

I'll take a light-power twist, please

This could just as easily be an early soft-serve ice cream machine.

I'm afraid!

On the other side of the room by chance, is there a man on an operating table with bolts through his neck?

Crossroads of technology

Just above the right side appears to be a gaslight. If it is, what a juxtaposition of technologies. Love the seashell lamp covers.


The electrical lighting dynamo room has a GAS light fixture - that's confidence for you!

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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