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Electric Lighting of the Kingdom of Hawaii 1886-1888

IEEE PES Hawaii Chapter Members formed a Milestone Award Team for the Electrification of Hawaii. After 1½ years, the IEEE PES Hawaii Chapter worked with the friends of Iolani Palace to celebrate the 130th anniversary of the electric lighting of Honolulu on 23rd March 2018 and an IEEE Milestone was dedicated to “the electric lighting of the Kingdom of Hawaii 1886–1888.” The IEEE Milestone was dedicated to Iolani Palace with a proclamation from Gov. Ige, tour of Iolani Palace and several speeches including the IEEE President James Jefferies, President of the University of Hawaii David Lassner, Executive Director of Iolani Palace Kippen de Alba Chu and Vice President of Public Affairs at Hawaiian Electric Scott Seu followed by a reception.  Fig. 1 shows the 24 IEEE members in attendance.

IEEE established the Electrical Engineering Milestones program in 1983 to honor significant achievements in the history of electrical and electronics engineering.

Electric Lighting of the Kingdom of Hawaii 1886 – 1888

In November 1886, electric light illuminated Iolani Palace’s grounds for King Kalakaua’s 50th birthday celebrations. By March 1887, the Palace had 325 incandescent lights installed within the 104 rooms.  The king’s action promoted economic development and accelerated implementation of electric lighting of the town of Honolulu on 23 March 1888.

Fig.1: IEEE members attending the Milestone dedication at Iolani Palace on March 23, 2018.

Iolani Palace had 325 incandescent light bulbs and the Throne Room with the 72 electric lights on the original 6 chandeliers is shown in Fig.2.

Fig.2: Iolani Palace Throne Room with 72 electric lights on six chandeliers.

The historic timeline for this Milestone Award is listed below:

  • 08/15/1881: On His Royal Highness (HRH) World Tour, King David Kalakaua visited the International Exposition of Electricity in Paris, France.
  • 09/26/1881: King David Kalakaua visited Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, in New York City for demonstration of DC electric light. HRH King Kalakaua was to decide if Honolulu should use gas or electricity for lamp/lighting.
  • 07/21/1886: First demonstration of DC electric light in Hawaii-one (1) light at Iolani Palace, 1 light at Government building, 1 light on Richard Street and 2 lights on King Street.
  • 11/25/1886: To celebrate King Kalakaua’s 50th birthday, a Jubilee Ball with 10-arc lights of 2,000 candle power lit Iolani Palace grounds.
  • March 1887: Three hundred twenty-five (325) incandescent lights were installed at Iolani Palace with 72 lights in the Throne Room and another 150 lights were installed at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Hotel Street.
  • June 1887: The dynamo power plant located on Palace grounds provided power for the lights. [Four (4) years before the White House had Electric Lighting.]
  • 03/21/1888: The Daily Bulletin Article “Honolulu Electric Works” energized dynamos for 50-arc lights and 12-arc lights. Dynamos and lamps were supplied by Thomson-Houston Co. of Massachusetts, [which eventually became General Electric].
  • 03/23/1888:Town of Honolulu lighted by electricity on the evening of March 23, 1888, whenHer Royal Highness (HRH) Princess Liliuokalani turned on the circuit at the Nuuanu Electric Light Station. Two circuits run by a large and small dynamos at the Electric Light Station [hydroelectric plant] in the [Nuuanu] Valley.  Long circuit is 15 miles and short is 6 miles on 46 poles.
  • 1893: The electric plant was purchased from Kalakaua’s estate by the Provisional Government who sold it the following year in 1894 to Hawaiian Electric. The plant was then moved into a larger building on the corner of Alakea and Halekauwila Streets.

On July 29, 1891 The Electrical Engineer, vol. 12 had an article on “Electrical Development In The Sandwich Islands” shown in Fig.3 below highlighting hydro-electric plants (dynamos driven by water-power) for electric lights and with foresight mentioned “submarine cable between the sandwich islands (Hawaii) and the American Continent” for communications which did not occur until 1954, 63 years later.

Sophia Tang, SMIEEE
IEEE Hawaii Milestone Award Chairperson