Profile America: Gas Lighting

Tuesday, February 7 — It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Two centuries ago, it was even better to light a gas lamp. On this date in 1816, America’s first gas streetlamp was lit in Baltimore, Maryland. The coal gas was supplied by the nation’s first incorporated gas company. Just like today, startups have their struggles, but by 1850, about 50 urban areas had gasworks for mostly municipal and business illumination, along with some private residences. While gas lamps today are mostly confined to elegant accent lighting, natural gas itself is a huge energy source in America, heating over 48 percent of the nation’s households. There are over 2,500 natural gas distribution establishments serving consumers and other users in the U.S., with annual revenues of around $90 billion.

Profile America is in its 20th year as a public service of the U.S. Census Bureau.

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