The Day Sydney Got Electricity

Today in 1904, Sydney’s electric lights were turned on for the first time.

Sydney’s progress amped up on this day in 1904 when the city’s electric streetlights were switched on.

On the wet and stormy evening of 8 July, Sarah Lees, The Lady Mayoress of Sydney, turned on the city’s power using a gold key made especially for the occasion.

As she turned the key, the Lady Mayoress said, “I have much pleasure in switching on the electric lighting for the City of Sydney. I trust that it will be a boon to the citizens and an encouragement to the enterprise of the City Council.”

Sydney’s York Street circa 1900

Sydney’s York Street circa 1900 [Image: Powerhouse Museum]

It was an important moment, a time of rapid growth for Australia’s oldest city. The already bustling trading hub was bursting into an expanding network of suburbs, and the move from steam power to electricity marked a turning point for Sydney.

“Without warning, a brilliant light struck the heart of the city. It seemed as though a flash of lightning had seared its way across the night. But unlike lightning, it remained – radiant and steady” describes Gordon F. Anderson in his book 50 Years of Electricity.

Sydney Town Hall

Sydney Town Hall illuminated at night for the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia [Image: Powerhouse Museum]

“People ignored the wind and rain, and stopped to stare wide-eyed at the new street lamps. Stranger spoke to stranger of the phenomenon.”

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Sydney’s St. Andrews Cathedral & Town Hall

Sydney’s St. Andrews Cathedral & Town Hall circa 1900 [Image: Powerhouse Museum]

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