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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
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GAS STREET LIGHTS. In 1854 the company of BARKER AND SPILMAN was the first to receive a Dubuque gas franchise. First valued only for its ability to provide light, gas was introduced to the city on July 18, 1855 from a plant constructed at the corner of Dodge and Bluff.

Gas supplies were difficult to maintain. An editorial in the Dubuque Herald in 1860 stated:

             For several weeks there has either been no gas at
             all or else a supply which affords about as much
             light as a penny dip...A continuation of such gas
             makes people immoral--it causes more ill feeling,
             profanity, unkindness, uncharitableness (sic) than
             all the whiskey shops in town en masse. (1)

On October 1, 1863 the city council first faced the issue of lighting the streets with gas lights. Thirty-six lamps were being considered with an annual cost of operation being $1,000. An editorial of that day in the Dubuque Democratic Herald clearly showed the interest in having the lights. (2) :

          ....On moonlight nights like those we have had the past week,
          there will be no need for lighted street lamps, but on dark,
          cloudy and especially rainy evenings their "refulgent rays" 
          are almost indispensable. It improves the city, gives it a
          better appearance, and burglaries would be less frequent...

The Council received a proposition of Julius K. GRAVES of the KEY CITY GAS COMPANY to install the thirty-six lamps along Main Street. Arguments against the proposal included the feeling that if merchants wanted such lighting they should pay the cost themselves. The proposal was submitted to a committee with one representative per ward. (3)

By 1864 a series of burglaries had convinced the city administration and Dubuque Herald that more needed to be done. On November 8th the following editorial appeared: (4)

          Night Police and Street Lights--The streets will be lighted
          tonight and an efficient police force will be stationed in
          the city, we are informed. We regret that any of our citizens
          should feel as little interest in securing property and life
          from the thieves that infest the city as to refuse to subscribe
          liberally for the lighting of the city and procuring the
          services of the night policemen. Some few, we learn, have
          refused to subscribe.

In November 1865 George Wallace JONES petitioned the city council for the installation of gas lights at different points on Julien Avenue. Anton HEEB, representing residents of the 5th Ward, and others petitioned that they should not be taxed for the operation of gas lights along Main Street. A motion was made for the mayor to enter into a contract with Howard and McArthur to light Main Street with not more than sixty gas lights. This motion was amended to say that only half of the lights would be lit on Main and other streets on which they were installed. A later motion left the decision on lighting the lamps up to the mayor. (5)

In 1872 street lighting maintenance was considered a problem. In July an editorial in the Dubuque Herald described the hazards of trying to find a path safely past construction in Dubuque. Describing the scene as dark as the "Black Hole of Calcutta," the writer blamed the street lighter and declared that a city in darkness for two hours could not be called "first class." (6) The editorial department of the Dubuque Herald in August 1872 included the following comment: (7)

            Lamplighter O'Halleran had the boys engaged cleaning the 
            street lamps yesterday, a much needed improvement. For a 
            good while past there has been rather a dirty glare of 
            lamplights streaming through the streets at night.

The installation of a gas street light could be the cause of great celebration. This was the case on September 2, 1874 when a single street light was lit on the corner of Dodge and Locust. A keg of beer was provided by Augustin A. COOPER who led efforts to bring street lighting to the First Ward. An article in the Dubuque Herald stated that another post was being installed on the corner of Locust and Jones. (8) Lighting 128 street lamps by the KEY CITY GAS COMPANY resulted in the city being billed $426.25 on September 4, 1874. (9)

On June 15, 1875 the Dubuque Herald reported that the Key City Gas Company was laying pipe up Third hill with the intention of installing three lamps. (10)

Installing lights did not always mean the streets were lit. The problem of dark streets led to a editorial in the July 17, 1875 issue of the Dubuque Herald.

             Where was the lamplighter last night? At 11:00 o'clock
             the streets of the city were enveloped in the darkness
             of Egypt...The city presented a fine field for
             ruffianism of every stripe. "Let us have light." (11)

A comparison of gas lighting was held on the evening of September 21, 1876. The city council was called into special session by the mayor as judges. A naptha lamp provided by the Globe Gas Light Company of Minneapolis was chosen the best. The lights of the Key City Gas Company, once cleaned and given "an extra supply of gas for the occasion," were selected as the second best. The other gas lamps in the city looked like "tallow candles feebly flickering." (12)

In March 1877 the contract for twenty-four new gas lamps was awarded to the Globe Gas Light Company. The Dubuque Herald commented that they would be the best lights in the city to "shed light on the ways that are dark and the tricks that are vain." Alderman Quigley, the chairman of the street commission, believed the city needed fifty more lamps. (13) The Dubuque Herald staff offered the opinion that

                   The new distribution of lamps will light a large
                   extent of territory long needing street lamps, but
                   will be inadequate to the demands of suburban 
                   citizens and tax payers, and more will probably
                   soon be put in. (14)

The success in Dubuque offered great publicity to the company. When Council Bluffs and Council Bluffs indicated an interest in their lights the firm established a branch office in Dubuque where lamps and posts were manufactured. Their agent's only complaint was that in Dubuque the lamps were placed so far apart that two men and a team of horses had to be maintained to keep them lit. (15)

In November 1877 the city council considered a new contract with the Dubuque Gas Company for lighting the streets. The contract called for lighting the lamps at $30 each annually when the number was 200 or less, for $27 when the number fell between 200 and 250, and $25 for anything over 250. Gas would be provided to the city at the rate of $3.50 per 1,000 cubic feet when the number of customers was under 700, and $3.00 over 700. (16)

The "lamp committee" located eleven of twenty-three Globe lamps in the Fifth Ward of Dubuque leading the Dubuque Herald to suggest that the council should locate fifty more lamps in areas of the city still in darkness. (17)

Despite concern of a potential lawsuit from the gas company, the city signed a contract with the United States Electric Light and Power Company to furnish seventy street lights at $59.95 annually with five percent rebate for a five year contract in May, 1890. (18)




1. "Editorial," Dubuque Herald, January 7, 1860, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18600107&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

2. "Gas." Dubuque Democratic Herald, October 1, 1863, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=A36e8EsbUSoC&dat=18631001&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

3. "Council Proceedings," Dubuque Democratic Herald, October 2, 1863, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=A36e8EsbUSoC&dat=18631002&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

4. "Night Police and Street Lights," Dubuque Democratic Herald, November 8, 1864, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=A36e8EsbUSoC&dat=18641108&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

5. "Common Council, " Dubuque Herald, November 14, 1865, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18651114&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

6. "Street Lamps," Dubuque Herald, July 12, 1872, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18720712&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

7. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, August 3, 1872, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18720803&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

8. "Gas Light Festivities," Dubuque Herald, September 3, 1874, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18740903&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

9. "City Council," Dubuque Herald, September 4, 1874, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18740904&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

10. "Caught on the Fly, Dubuque Herald, June 15, 1875, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18750615&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

11. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, July 17, 1875, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18750717&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

12. "Caught on the Fly, Dubuque Herald, September 22, 1876, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18760922&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

13. "The Gas Question, Dubuque Herald, March 13, 1877, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18770313&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

14. Ibid.

15. "Merit Will Win," Dubuque Herald, August 5, 1877, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18770805&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

16. "The City Fathers," Dubuque Herald, November 6, 1877, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18771106&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

17. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, December 11, 1877, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18771211&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

18. "The Light of Lights," Dubuque Daily Herald, May 6, 1890, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18900506&printsec=frontpage&hl=en