Saturday, 10 October 2015

Calcutta was the third city (1880s) to get electric power in the world!!

Tram cars were popular as city transit in
Electricity  had been as much a physical curiosity  as intellectual curiosity  for the human civilization for  millennia until 1600, when the English scientist William Gilbert, upon careful research on  electricity and magnetism,  differentiated   the lodestone effect from static electricity produced by rubbing amber. Ancient cultures around the Mediterranean  were already aware of the attraction of light objects  by rubbing objects such as  rods of amber with cat's fur to attract light objects like feathers. Likewise way long before the discovery electricity and electric power, ancient Egyptians 2750 BC millennia later  ancient Greek, Roman and Arabic naturalists and physicians were aware of electric fish, catfish and torpedo rays that could cause numbing effect by delivering  electric shock, if threatened. Among the later workers on electricity, Benjamin Franklin carried out detailed study and proved the that lightning is a natural phenomenon by flying  kites attached with a metal key with dampened string  in the  storm-threatened sky that produced sparks  jumping from key to the back of his hand.

Thomas Edison, (February, 1847 – October, 1931) , prolific American inventor, developed many devices that had wider application in all phases of  life around the world, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the long-lasting, practical electric light bulb.

Since  Alessandro Volta's demonstration of a glowing wire in 1800 many worker such as Henry Woodward, Mathew Evans,  Humphry Davy, William E. Sawyer, Joseph Swan, et al  had  developed incandescent bulb that had short life. Edison's sustained works  on filament, an essential part of a bulb, despite failures bore him fruits. Edison came up with a practical bulb in January, 1880  by using "a carbon filament or strip coiled and connected to platinum contact wires". This was the first commercially practical incandescent light.

In the 1890s  and early 1900s,  better and safe application of AC currents, long distance transmission, step down transformers, etc resulted in commercial exploitation of electric power.

 The electrification of Calcutta took place 17 years after New York, the first city to have electricity in 1882 and eleven years after London, which was electrified in 1888. P W Fleury & Co was the first one in India that conducted first demonstration of electric light in Calcutta  on 24 July, 1879. Yet another demo was done by Dey Sil & Co  on 30 June, 1881 and  it lit up 36 electric lights  in the Garden Reach Cotton Mills owned by  Mackinnon & Mackenzie.  In 1899 the first thermal power plant of Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation Limited was commissioned during Lord Curzon's period. Calcutta, then the Capital of the British  Empire,  was considered the second largest city next to London. After the  arrival of electric power in Calcutta  the Government of Bengal  passed  the Calcutta Electric Lighting Act in 1895. The first license was  issued  for a period of 21 years, initially covering an area of 5.64 square miles, which has now grown  to 567 sq kms.


With a capital of 1000 pounds  on 7 January, 1897 Kilburn & Co,  registered in London,  secured the Calcutta electric lighting license as agents of The Indian Electric Co Ltd.  Subsequently it changed its name to The Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation Limited with additional capital of 1,00,000 pounds. In  December, 1898  its  clients were bank of Bengal (now the State Bank of India), The Bengal Club on Chowringhee and several private residences. The power was supplied on trial basis.

 horse driven tram in Calcutta

The utility company  initially installed 'Mains' for the supply of 60,000 lamps  and later  200,000  lamps on a 24 hour basis. The source of supply was from the  800 HP  power generating   plant  with eight dynamos and a storage battery  at  Emambaugh Lane commissioned on 17, April, 1899. Later  power connection was given to the Government House, whre Lord Curzon was working.  Electricity came 
to Bombay  in November, 1900  Killick Nixon and Company , as agents of Messrs. Kilburn and Company of Calcutta was the utility company. 
Soon electric power ruled the roost and  the era of hand-

Busy Calcutta street scene,
fan and Punkah - country fan hanging from the ceiling was  over, replaced by electric fansthat gave relief to people who were sweating it out under the tropical hot sun. The Calcutta High Court, the Government owned Army Clothing Factory at Alipore, Fort William and other places switched over to electricity and also electric fan between 1899 and 1902.  As part of improving public transport system to move people to different locations within the city, in 1902 electric tramway was introduced replacing horse drawn carriages, which were popular then. In 1912, 6,000 consumers used 12 million units of power.  In the later period 25 watts bulb was widely used.