When Was Cleveland Known as the City of Light?

Ralph DiMatteo History

Charles Brush Picture

In a recent conversation, I was asked exactly when Cleveland became known as “The City of Light” and I had to answer honestly that I had no idea. But since I’m rarely caught that off-guard on topics Cleveland-related, I set out to track down the answer.

It led me to one Charles F. Brush, the inventor born in Ohio who brought us the arc light. If the name “Brush" and the word “arc” sound familiar, your instincts are correct.

Brush High School, which serves the South Euclid-Lyndhurst School District, is indeed named after Brush. And their team nickname - the “Arcs” - is a tribute to the light that Brush introduced to the world. But as there always seems to be, there is more to the story.

Brush was born in Euclid Township in 1849 and, although raised on a farm, had a passionate interest in science, conducting a variety of experiments in a workshop he created on the farm.  

While in high school, he invented his first version of an arc light, which led to Brush graduating with high honors in 1867, taking him to the University of Michigan for his undergraduate studies, eventually earning his PhD from Western Reserve (now known as Case Western Reserve) in 1870.

All of this led to Brush conducting the first public display of street lighting in the United States at Cleveland’s Monumental Park (now known as Public Square), utilizing his arc lamp. Thousands of curious onlookers watched in amazement as they were witnesses to the entire outdoor space being transformed from darkness to full illumination with the flip of a single switch, thus earning Cleveland the nickname of the City of Light.

The successful demonstration of Brush’s dynamo street light system led to him becoming a very wealthy man, but he never rested on this single success, as he continued to invent out of an extensive workshop he built within the mansion that became his home on Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue (naturally).

The Millionaire's Row mansion was not only home to Brush and his family, but a showcase of sorts for a variety of his inventions and innovations. Most notably in 1888, the home became the first private residence in Cleveland to become fully electrically powered though the use of a wind turbine generator that powered 12 batteries, enough to power the entire home and laboratory for the entire 20-year life of the generator.

Brush never seemed to slow down even in his later years, publishing papers and opinions right up until his passing in 1929.

Charles F. Brush, along with many others who had a significant impact on Cleveland’s history, is interred at Lake View Cemetery, which is a great story all its own (and provides the absolute best view of Cleveland on a clear day). Take a trip and see it for yourself while paying your respects to one of Cleveland's greatest inventors.

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