The first American city to implement a full-scale electricity power grid was Buffalo, N.Y. Los Angeles currently boasts the nation’s largest public electric utility network. As for the major cities whose citizenry consumes the most electricity? Sun-baked Dallas and Houston.
Music City offers its own distinctive history of electricity, and the Nashville Public Library and its foundation are highlighting it with Electrifying Times: How Power Transformed Our City, an exhibit of more than 100 photos, posters and newspaper ads from the Nashville Electric Service Public Relations Records (c. 1866-1989). The exhibit “illuminates” the city’s history with images featuring clever word play, grand buildings and hard-working citizens.
A 1910 photo reads, “Cook Electrically: No More Kitchen Drudgery.” Another reads, “Don’t Make a Slave of Your Wife: Let Universal Do Your Entire Wash.”
One section of the exhibit, tastefully presented in the library’s second-floor Courtyard Gallery, honors the city’s long-missed streetcar system. “Only Men Trained in Safety Operate Street Cars” reads a photo.
“From humble beginnings, NES and our predecessors helped speed the growth of the city … to help Nashville become known around the world,” said NES President and CEO Decosta Jenkins, his enthusiasm perhaps amped with a jolt of exaggeration.
“The photos and documents … help remind us how important electricity was in shaping daily life in the 20th century,” said Tracey Howerton, a special collections library staff member.
Interesting artifacts supplement the exhibit, including early models of electrical household appliances. But the highlight of Electrifying Times might be a photo of men hanging an electric sign on the front of the Nashville Railway & Light Co./Tennessee Electric Power Co. building, which was located on the 600 block of Church Street — where the main library stands today.
Indeed, even those quick to criticize what they contend is the utility’s all-too-frequent rate hikes ought to enjoy what is an intriguing, educational exhibit. It runs at the downtown library through May 22.