|Abstract or Summary
- One of the greatest technological breakthroughs of humanity was the ability to
construct a device and eventually a system which would provide a more efficient, safe,
clean, convenient and relatively inexpensive form of illumination than ever used previously
electric light. The introduction of this new technology into Oregon
communities in the early years of this century was a remarkable accomplishment.
Along with memories of the light itself, important and intriguing recollections of "life
lived yesterday" are often associated with these early days of electric lighting.
Because these "yesterdays" are becoming more distant from the present, persons
holding those memories are reaching ages where such information becomes difficult to
recall, vague, distorted and often forgotten altogether. In this study, memories of how
electric light affected people were recalled differently in some aspect by informants,
whether it was used for the purpose of lighting streets and buildings or on personal
properties within the home and on farms.
Published information describing the effects of electric lighting on society is
relatively scarce. Consequently, persons with important previous experiences are in
many instances the only source of insight on how our predecessors lived before
electric light was in use and especially how this technological breakthrough may or
may not have affected their lives. Those published descriptions of pre-electric life that
do exist are most commonly found in obscure publications, often originating in small
or private electric company newsletters and annual reports. Very few of these reports
were compiled in a systematic scheme later to be interpreted quantitatively and in light
of previous research. My own interest in this subject was piqued when I realized that
both oral histories and technical data on how electricity affected individuals of the
Pacific Northwest region is profoundly poor in comparison to material available on
other parts of the country.
With this understanding, 32 individuals representing a span of 30 years, five
states and 15 different communities throughout Oregon, were interviewed over the
course of four months. The informants were asked questions pertaining to their
lifestyle and memories before, during and after the introduction of electricity, and
more specifically about the advent of electric light into their communities and homes.
Because the study utilized a minuscule sample size in comparison to the state
population, generalizations were not appropriate. Nevertheless, the oral histories
provided a greater insight into how the introduction of electric light and electric power
affected the life of an Oregonian.