1889 One Hundred Years Ago

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The Chicago Auditorium, designed by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, opened to the public on December 9. It immediately ranked as one of the city’s architectural masterpieces. Chicago’s Commission on Architectural Landmarks would later cite “the community spirit which here joined commercial and artistic ends, uniting hotel, office building, and theater in one structure…and the genius of the architect which gave form and, with the aid of original ornament, expressed the spirit of festivity in rooms of great splendor.” In 1947 the Chicago Auditorium Building became the home of Roosevelt University.

“Wherever you see the big white electric light, with its carbons burning, you may know that death lurks overhead,” wrote Alexander Welsh, an assistant to Thomas Edison, of the enveloping tangle of electric wires that plagued New York City in 1889. “Nearly every wire you see in the open air is thick enough and strong enough to carry a death-dealing current. … A man ringing a door-bell or leaning up against a lamp post might be struck dead any instant.”

By year’s end Mayor Hugh J. Grant had seen enough of injury and death by electrocution in his city. The December 28 issue of Harper’s Weekly reported that after “loss of life so wanton that the whole country looked upon New York with amazement,” the city had begun to clear away its mesh of dangerous wires by the mayor’s order. “New-Yorkers seem to allow the streets to be abused and obstructed and neglected in every way without peremptory protest or a definite consciousness of rights,” lamented the magazine.

Crowds flocked in December to Thomas Edison’s Fifth Avenue headquarters in New York City to see the world’s first electrically lighted Christmas tree.