On April 29, 1879, inventor Charles Brush lit up Cleveland like never before.
Twelve arc lamps, mounted high above Monumental Park (now Public Square), crackled to life and bathed the assembled crowd in bright light. Street lighting had just changed forever.
Soon, Brush’s creations beamed on American streets from Broadway to San Francisco. A pioneer in the nascent field of electricity, Brush didn’t actually invent the arc lamp — he just perfected it.
“Brush wanted to make a better arc lamp, so he created a dynamo to provide the power and also storage batteries as a backup,” says associate professor John J. Grabowski at Case Western Reserve University.
The arc lamp, featuring an electrical current that jumped between two carbon rods to produce bright light, made Brush a rich man. He built a mansion on Millionaires’ Row with an immense windmill in the backyard that powered multiple batteries inside the house.
Fittingly, this innovation made Brush Mansion the first Cleveland home to be powered by electricity. Renewable electricity, at that.
When not tinkering in his basement laboratory, Brush used his riches to invest in his hometown. Notably, he helped finance the Cleveland Arcade and created the Brush Foundation as a lasting charitable legacy.
In honor of his immense contributions to science, Charles F. Brush High School opened in 1927 in Lyndhurst. Its mascot? Arcy the Arc Lamp.
“Light was one of the most important advancements of the late 19th century,” says Grabowski, “even though we take it for granted nowadays. Brush’s story is really about the search for light in a dark city.”