How Bangalore got Electricity in 1905

Electricity is only 136 years old. Electricity generation at central power stations started in 1882, when a steam engine driving a dynamo produced  DC Current that powered public lighting on Pearl Street, New York. The new technology was quickly adopted by many cities around the world.

Calcutta beat New York. The first demonstration of electric light in Calcutta was conducted on July 24, 1879 and in 1881, 36 electric lights lit up a Cotton Mill of Mackinnon & Mackenzie. On 17th April 1899, the first thermal power plant of The Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation Limited was commissioned, heralding the beginning of thermal power generation in India. The Calcutta Tramways Company switched to electricity from horse-drawn carriages in 1902. 

Bangalore made history in 1905 when it became the 1st city in Asia to have streetlights. There is an interesting story behind why Bangalore was chosen ahead of Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi. 

After defeating Tipu Sultan in 1791 the British had full control of the Mysore region that included Bangalore & Kolar. By 1880 the British realised that Kolar held a lot more gold veins than was previously estimated. The Golden Carpets, 4 miles (6 km) long with an average width of 4 miles, were first worked by a British company, John Taylor and Sons, in 1880. Within three years, four main veins (Champion, Oorgaum, Nundydorog, and Mysore) were opened. Champion, the deepest, reached some 10,500 feet (3,200 meters) below sea level.

Kolar Gold Fields in late 1800’s

Kolar in the late 1800’s was a booming gold town. Till 1902 all the machinery in the mines was worked by steam power. However, it was clear that to run sophisticated machinery and mine more gold, they would need electricity. This led to the setting up of the Hydel Power station at Shivanasamudra falls. 

The first major Hydro-Electric Generating Station for commercial operations was thus commissioned in 1889 at Shivasamudram, near Mysore. The longest transmission line, at the highest voltage in the world, was constructed exclusively to meet the power needs of mining operations at Kolar Gold Fields. The work at Shivasamudram was completed in the middle of 1902. On the the 30th of June 1902, 4000 H.P. of Electric Energy was transmitted to Kolar Gold Fields for the first time. 

The good news was that this Hydel Power plant was generating 300 – 400 HP of excess power. This caught the attention of William McHutchin, a Briton trained in the Madras Civil Engineering College and the then chief engineer of Bengaluru. He wrote a letter to the Maharaja of Mysore requesting for the excess power to be diverted to electrifying Bangalore. 

Things in those days moved fast. The King gave his approval for the electrification of Bengaluru in May 1904. The project was estimated to cost Rs 7.46 lakh. Electrical lines running 57 kms had to be drawn from Kankanhalli (now Kanakapura). They were laid in just nine months.  

It was a moment of joy and celebrations when on a Saturday evening of August 5th, 1905 over 100 streetlights lit up Siddikatte, now KR Market,  Within a year, there were 861 streetlights and 1,639 domestic connections.

Street Lights Illumination Bangalore in 1905

A 16 candle bulb (today’s equivalent to 40 watt) cost residents Re 1 every month. The fare was considered steep and could be afforded only by affluent city residents. 
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Bangalore Facts is a series of interesting articles about the history of Bangalore from A Few Good Things. This is the first article of this series. Please subscribe to A Few Good Things for regular updates.

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