Category Archives: Blog Posts

Exhibiting Electricity in Manchester

By Ceri Houlbrook , University of Hertfordshire

With the Electric Generations exhibition now open at the Irish World Heritage Centre, we wanted to consider Manchester’s role in bringing electricity to people’s homes. It’s no surprise that this industrial powerhouse of a city embraced technological developments – and hosted a number of large-scale exhibitions showcasing them.

In 1887 they held the four-month Royal Jubilee Exhibition, opened by the Prince of Wales and admitting over four million visitors. Many newly developed electrical devices were on display. The building was lit by arc and incandescent lighting, installed by the Anglo-American Electric Light and the Manchester Edison Swan companies. An installation by Mather and Platt of Manchester included generators (pictured below), used to power a printing machine and electrical singeing machine, and various other electrical miscellany were on display: electric bells, electric cigar lighters, even a miniature electric bath ‘for medical purposes’. And a lot of attention was given to the telephone, with visitors being invited to use public telephones, managed by operators, to send over 100,000 messages to towns in Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire.

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Pifco: A Manchester institution that shaped our Electric Generations

By Owen Davies, University of Hertfordshire

The Provincial Incandescent Fittings Company — better known as Pifco — was established in Manchester by Joseph Webber (1876-1955) to sell lighting appliances and accessories. He was born in Brzostek, then in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now in Poland, and came to London with his family in the 1880s. He worked as a hawker, and then as sole agent for the American Electric Co., as well as being an importer of gas mantles.

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“She is Full of Electricity”: Fear and electrification

By Ceri Houlbrook, University of Hertfordshire

People fear what they don’t understand. But what you don’t understand is often determined by the period you live in, and so for every generation this may well be something different.

Accessing the fears and anxieties of people living in the past is no easy feat. There are very few historical sources that can give us direct insight into the types of things that worried, daunted, and frightened people. Hospital records are one of those few. And so, to gain some understanding of what people feared a century ago, I delved into the case-books of Lancaster Moor Hospital (pictured above), currently held in the Lancashire Archives.

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The Rays: A Fairy Story

By Ceri Houlbrook, University of Hertfordshire

‘ELECTRICITY is a friend and helper in the home, but sometimes it seems terribly mysterious, because it is so silent and invisible.

This little reader is meant to lead children to think of Electricity with interest and confidence as a friend who is always ready to help, and who need not be feared, if treated with respect.

At the same time, the fairy tale affords a glimpse into some of the wonderful changes through which electrical energy passes before it enters the Home’ (1930: 2)

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ESB Advertising: The Early Years

By Deirdre McParland, ESB Archives

From the very beginning of the Shannon Scheme, quality advertising was used to inform, encourage and entertain the public on the benefits of electricity. Electricity was a new technology and while available in towns and cities from local suppliers since the turn of the century, its use was limited. Through the medium of advertising, ESB sought to convince the population of Ireland that electricity was not only perfectly safe but also easy to use and would transform the lives of Irish people for ever.

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Love, Obey and Carry Water: Electricity in the Irish Countryside

In our last blog post, Ciara Meehan looked at how Dublin housewives converted to electricity in the 1960s. In this latest post, Lorna Sixsmith explores the experience of the rural dweller.

Guest Post from author Lorna Sixsmith.

While townspeople were buying electric cookers, refrigerators and dishwashers for their kitchens, using electric irons for their clothes and electric tongs to curl their hair in the 1950s and 1960s, were country people able to avail of the same modern conveniences?

The contrast between town and country facilities was highlighted in many publications:

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Converting to Electricity: Irish Housewives in the 1960s

By Ciara Meehan, University of Hertfordshire

Electric rings, electric kettles and electric coffee pots were in much demand in April 1961 as the Evening Herald reported that Dublin housewives were preparing for a ‘kitchen emergency’. Although domestic consumption of electricity had increased steadily from the 1950s, many homes still relied on gas appliances. So when strike notice was served on the Dublin Gas Company, Dublin housewives began to prepare themselves for temporary disruption to the pattern of their daily life.

Front page of the Evening Herald, Saturday, 15 April 1961

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