Public lighting

King Louis XIV began his personal rule of France in 1661. Shortly thereafter, in September 1667, Paris police Lieutenant General Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie ordered the first candlelight lanterns to be installed in several ill-reputed squares and streets of Paris that were known to be a den of thieves and robbers. The inhabitants of the parts of town concerned, were put in charge of the servicing and maintenance of these lanterns. However, their constant maintenance turned out to be laborious and painstaking as the wicks had to be cleaned, cut and trimmed at regular intervals. Finally, owing to the lack of zeal of the lamplighters, the lighting of streets and squares left much to be desired.

In June 1697, a royal edict directed that the major cities of the kingdom be equipped with lanterns in accordance with what had been put in place in Paris.

As late as 1764, the Academy of Science initiated a competition with prizes on the subject of: « The best method for lighting the streets of a large city at night, with specific regard to a combination of efficient lighting, easy servicing, and economic operation ».

This is how, from 1765 on, the first oil lamps, known as « réverbères » street lamps, progressively began to replace the candlelight lanterns.

After the City of London had first introduced gas lanterns, Paris installed gas lighting at the Opéra of Paris in 1819. The Parisian ladies, however, were not enthused by this new lighting technique because it made their faces appear pale. This is why gas lighting was only short-lived!

The definitive change set in at the 1889 Paris World Fair with the Eiffel Tower, when Thomas Edison presented, among other inventions, his filament light bulb. This was the breakthrough for electric lighting which, in turn, required the building of power plants and electricity networks.