A street light, light pole, lamppost, street lamp, light standard, or lamp standard is a raised source of light on the edge of a road or path. Similar lights may be found on a
railway platform A railway platform is an area alongside a railway track Track or Tracks may refer to: Routes or imprints * Ancient trackway, any track or trail whose origin is lost in antiquity * Animal track, imprints left on surfaces that an animal walks acr ...

railway platform
. When urban
electric power distribution Electric power distribution is the final stage in the delivery Delivery may refer to: *Delivery (commerce), of goods, e.g.: **Pizza delivery **Milk delivery Film and television *Delivering (film), ''Delivering'' (film), a 1993 short film by Todd ...
became ubiquitous in developed countries in the 20th century, lights for urban streets followed, or sometimes led. Many lamps have light-sensitive
photocell Photodetectors, also called photosensors, are sensors In the broadest definition, a sensor is a device, module, machine, or subsystem whose purpose is to detect events or changes in its environment and send the information to other electro ...

s that activate the lamp automatically when needed, at times when there is little-to-no ambient light, such as at dusk, dawn, or at the onset of dark weather conditions. This function in older lighting systems could be performed with the aid of a
solar dialA solar dial is a type of time switch used primarily for controlling lighting. The benefit of a solar dial over a conventional 'on-off' time switch is the ability to 'track' the sunrise and sunset times for a particular latitude (which is specified ...
. Many street light systems are being connected underground instead of wiring from one
utility post
utility post
to another. Street lights are an important source of public
security lightingIn the field of physical security, security lighting is lighting that intended to deter or detect intrusions or other criminal activity on a piece of real property. It can also be used to increase a feeling of safety. Lighting is integral to crime ...
intended to reduce crime.


Preindustrial era

Early lamps were used by Greek and Roman civilizations, where light primarily served the purpose of
security Security is freedom from, or resilience against, potential Potential generally refers to a currently unrealized ability. The term is used in a wide variety of fields, from physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its El ...
, both to protect the wanderer from tripping on the path over something or keeping the potential robbers at bay. At that time oil lamps were used predominantly as they provided a long-lasting and moderate flame. A slave responsible for lighting the oil lamps in front of Roman villas was called a . In the Middle Ages, so-called "
link boy A link-boy (or link boy or linkboy) was a boy A boy is a young male Male (♂) is the sex of an organism that produces the gamete known as sperm. A male gamete can fuse with a larger female gamete, or ovum, in the process of fertilizati ...
s" escorted people from one place to another through the murky winding streets of medieval towns. Before
incandescent The incandescent metal embers of the spark used to light this Bunsen burner emit light ranging in color from white to orange to yellow to red or to blue. This change correlates with their temperature as they cool in the air. The flame itself is ...

candle A candle is an ignitable candle wick, wick embedded in wax, or another flammable solid substance such as tallow, that provides light, and in some cases, a Aroma compound, fragrance. A candle can also provide heat or a method of keeping time. ...

lighting was employed in cities. The earliest lamps required that a
lamplighter 's ''Ostrów Tumski, Wrocław, Ostrów Tumski'' ("Cathedral Island") district, Poland, November 2005. Image:Brest lamplighter.jpg, The lamplighter in Brest, Belarus (15 October 2011). A lamplighter is a person employed to light and maintain candle ...
tour the town at dusk, lighting each of the lamps. According to some sources, illumination was ordered in London in 1417 by Sir
Henry Barton Sir Henry Barton (died 1435) was twice Lord Mayor of London The Lord Mayor of London is the Mayors in England, mayor of the City of London and the Leader of the council, leader of the City of London Corporation. Within the City, the Lord Mayor ...
Mayor of London The mayor of London is the chief executive of the Greater London Authority The Greater London Authority (GLA), colloquially known by the metonym "City Hall", is the Devolution in the United Kingdom, devolved Regions of England, regional ...
though there is no firm evidence of this. Public street lighting was first developed in the 16th century, and accelerated following the invention of lanterns with glass windows, which greatly improved the quantity of light. In 1588 the Parisian Parliament decreed that a torch be installed and lit at each intersection, and in 1594 the police changed this to lanterns. Still, in the mid 17th century it was a common practice for travelers to hire a lantern-bearer if they had to move at night through the dark, winding streets. King
Louis XIV , house = House of Bourbon, Bourbon , father = Louis XIII, Louis XIII of France , mother = Anne of Austria , birth_date = , birth_place = Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Kingdom of France, F ...

Louis XIV
authorized sweeping reforms in Paris in 1667, which included the installation and maintenance of lights on streets and at intersections, as well as stiff penalties for vandalizing or stealing the fixtures. Paris had more than 2,700 street lights by the end of the 17th century, and twice as many by 1730. Under this system, streets were lit with lanterns suspended apart on a cord over the middle of the street at a height of ; as an English visitor enthused in 1698, 'The streets are lit all winter and even during the full moon!' In London, public street lighting was implemented around the end of the 17th century; a
diarist A diary is a record (originally in handwritten format) with discrete entries arranged by date reporting on what has happened over the course of a day or other period. A personal diary may include a person's experiences, thoughts, and/or feelin ...

wrote in 1712 that ‘All the way, quite through Hyde Park to the Queen’s Palace at Kensington, lanterns were placed for illuminating the roads on dark nights.’ A much-improved oil lantern, called a , was introduced in 1745 and improved in subsequent years. The light shed from these réverbères was considerably brighter, enough that some people complained of glare. These lamps were attached to the top of lampposts; by 1817, there were 4694 lamps on the Paris streets. During the
French Revolution The French Revolution ( ) was a period of radical political and societal change in France France (), officially the French Republic (french: link=no, République française), is a spanning and in the and the , and s. Its ...

French Revolution
(1789–1799), the revolutionaries found that the lampposts were a convenient place to hang aristocrats and other opponents.

Gas lamp lighting

The first widespread system of street lighting used piped
coal gas Coal gas is a flammable gaseous fuel Fuel gas is any one of a number of fuels that under ordinary conditions are gaseous. Many fuel gases are composed of hydrocarbons (such as methane or propane), hydrogen, carbon monoxide, or mixtures there ...

coal gas
as fuel.
Stephen Hales Stephen Hales (17 September 16774 January 1761) was an English clergyman who made major contributions to a range of scientific fields including botany Botany, also called , plant biology or phytology, is the science Science (from th ...

Stephen Hales
was the first person who procured a flammable fluid from the actual distillation of coal in 1726 and John Clayton, in 1735, called gas the "spirit" of coal and discovered its flammability by accident.
William Murdoch William Murdoch (sometimes spelled Murdock) (21 August 1754 – 15 November 1839) was a Scottish engineer and inventor. Murdoch was employed by the firm of Boulton & Watt and worked for them in Cornwall, as a steam engine erector for ten ye ...

William Murdoch
(sometimes spelled "Murdock") was the first to use this gas for the practical application of lighting. In the early 1790s, while overseeing the use of his company's steam engines in tin mining in Cornwall, Murdoch began experimenting with various types of gas, finally settling on coal-gas as the most effective. He first lit his own house in
Redruth Redruth ( , kw, Resrudh) is a town and civil parish In England, a civil parish is a type of administrative parish used for local government. It is a territorial designation which is the lowest tier of local government below districts ...

, Cornwall in 1792. In 1798, he used gas to light the main building of the
Soho Foundry Soho Foundry is a factory created in 1795 by Matthew Boulton and James Watt and their sons Matthew Robinson Boulton and James Watt Jr. at Smethwick, West Midlands (county), West Midlands, England (), for the manufacture of steam engines. Now own ...

Soho Foundry
and in 1802 lit the outside in a public display of gas lighting, the lights astonishing the local population. The first public street lighting with gas was demonstrated in Pall Mall, London on 28 January 1807 by
Frederick Albert Winsor Frederick Albert Winsor, originally Friedrich Albrecht Winzer (1763 in Braunschweig Braunschweig () or Brunswick (, from Low German ''Brunswiek'' , Braunschweig dialect: ''Bronswiek''), is a city A city is a large human settlement.Goodall, ...
. In 1812,
Parliament In modern politics and history, a parliament is a legislative A legislature is an assembly Assembly may refer to: Organisations and meetings * Deliberative assembly A deliberative assembly is a gathering of members (of any kind of ...
granted a charter to the London and Westminster
Gas Light and Coke Company The Gas Light and Coke Company (also known as the Westminster Gas Light and Coke Company, and the Chartered Gas Light and Coke Company), was a company that made and supplied coal gas and coke. The headquarters of the company were located on H ...
, and the first gas company in the world came into being. Less than two years later, on 31 December 1813, the
Westminster Bridge Westminster Bridge is a road-and-foot-traffic bridge over the River Thames The River Thames ( ), known alternatively in parts as the The Isis, River Isis, is a river that flows through southern England including London. At , it is the lo ...

Westminster Bridge
was lit by gas. Following this success, gas lighting spread outside London, both within Britain and abroad. The first place outside London in England to have gas lighting, was
Preston, Lancashire Preston () is a city on the north bank of the River Ribble The River Ribble runs through North Yorkshire and Lancashire in Northern England. It starts close to the Ribblehead Viaduct in North Yorkshire, and is one of the few that start in ...
in 1816, where Joseph Dunn's Preston Gaslight Company introduced a new, brighter gas lighting. Another early adopter was the city of
Baltimore Baltimore ( , locally: ) is the most populous city The United Nations uses three definitions for what constitutes a city, as not all cities in all jurisdictions are classified using the same criteria. Cities may be defined as the city prop ...

, where the gas lights were first demonstrated at
Rembrandt Peale Rembrandt Peale (February 22, 1778 – October 3, 1860) was an American artist and museum keeper. A prolific portrait painter, he was especially acclaimed for his likenesses of presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Peale's style was ...
's Museum in 1816, and Peale's Gas Light Company of Baltimore provided the first gas streetlights in the United States. In Paris, public street lighting was first installed on a covered shopping street, the
Passage des Panoramas The Passage des Panoramas is the oldest of the covered passages of ParisThe Covered Passage of Paris (french: Passages couverts de Paris) are an early form of shopping arcade built in Paris, France Paris () is the Capital city, capital and ...

Passage des Panoramas
, in 1817, private interior gas lighting having been previously demonstrated in a house on the rue Saint-Dominique seventeen years prior. The first gas lamps on the main streets of Paris appeared in January 1829 on the
place du Carrousel The Place du Carrousel () is a public square in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, located at the open end of the courtyard of the Louvre Palace The Louvre Palace (french: Palais du Louvre, ) is a former royal palace located on the Right Bank of ...
and the
rue de Rivoli Rue de Rivoli (; English: "Rivoli Street") is a street in central Paris, France. It is a commercial street whose shops include leading fashionable brands. It bears the name of Napoleon's early victory against the Austrian army, at the Battle of Riv ...

rue de Rivoli
, then on the
rue de la Paix The rue de la Paix (English: Peace Street) () is a fashionable shopping street in the center of Paris. Located in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris The 2nd arrondissement of Paris (''IIe arrondissement'') is one of the 20 arrondissements of the c ...
place Vendôme The Place Vendôme (), earlier known as Place Louis-le-Grand, and also as Place Internationale, is a square in the 1st arrondissement of Paris The 1st arrondissement of Paris (''Ier arrondissement'') is one of the 20 Arrondissements of Paris, ...

place Vendôme
, and rue de Castiglione. By 1857, the '' Grands Boulevards'' were all lit with gas; a Parisian writer enthused in August 1857: "That which most enchants the Parisians is the new lighting by gas of the boulevards...From the church of the Madeleine all the way to rue Montmartre, these two rows of lamps, shining with a clarity white and pure, have a marvelous effect." The gaslights installed on the boulevards and city monuments in the 19th century gave the city the nickname "The City of Light." Oil-gas appeared in the field as a rival of coal-gas. In 1815, patented an apparatus for the decomposition of "oil" and other animal substances. Public attention was attracted to "oil-gas" by the display of the patent apparatus at Apothecary's Hall, by Taylor & Martineau. The first modern street lamps to use kerosene (1000 pieces) were in service in
Bucharest, Romania Bucharest ( , ; ro, București ) is the capital and largest city of Romania, as well as its cultural, industrial, and financial centre. It is in the southeast of the country, at , on the banks of the Dâmbovița River, less than north of the ...

Bucharest, Romania
in 1857, setting thus a new world record. In
Brest Brest may refer to: Places * Brest, Belarus, a city formerly known as Brest-Litovsk * Brest, Čučer-Sandevo, a village in North Macedonia * Brest, France, a city and harbour in Brittany * Brest, Germany, a municipality * Brest, Kyustendil Province ...
, street lighting with
kerosene lamp A kerosene lamp (also known as a paraffin lamp in some countries) is a type of lighting device that uses kerosene as a fuel. Kerosene lamps have a Candle wick, wick or gas mantle, mantle as light source, protected by a glass chimney or globe; la ...

kerosene lamp
s reappeared in 2009 in the shopping street as a tourist attraction.

''Farola fernandina''

''Farola fernandina'' is a traditional design of gas street light which remains popular in Spain. Essentially it is a neo-classical French style of gas lamp dating from the late 18th century. It may be either a wall-bracket or standard lamp. The standard base is cast metal with an escutcheon bearing two intertwined letters 'F', the
Royal cypher In modern heraldry, a royal cypher is a monogram A monogram or wenzel ( pl, Węzeł, "knot") is a motif Motif may refer to: General concepts * Motif (chess composition), an element of a move in the consideration of its purpose * Motif (fo ...
of King
Ferdinand VII of Spain , house = BourbonBourbon may refer to: Food and drink * Bourbon whiskey, an American whiskey made using a corn-based mash * Bourbon barrel aged beer, a type of beer aged in bourbon barrels * Bourbon biscuit, a chocolate sandwich biscuit ...
and commemorates the date of the birth of his daughter, the
Infanta Luisa Fernanda, Duchess of Montpensier Infanta María Luisa Fernanda of Spain, Duchess of Montpensier (30 January 1832 – 2 February 1897) was Infanta of Spain and Duchess of Montpensier. She was the youngest daughter of King Ferdinand VII of Spain , house = House of Bour ...
. File:Base de farola fernandina.jpg, Typical base and escutcheon of a ''farola fernandina'' File:Aranjuez FarolaFernandina.jpg, A ''farola fernandina'' in
Aranjuez Aranjuez () is a city and municipality of Spain , image_flag = Bandera de España.svg , image_coat = Escudo de España (mazonado).svg , national_motto = , national_anthem = , image_map ...

File:Aranjuez PalacioReal Farola.jpg, Street light in Ferdinand VII style near the
Royal Palace of Aranjuez The Royal Palace of Aranjuez ( es, Palacio Real de Aranjuez) is a former Spanish royal residence. It is located 50 km south of Madrid in the town of Aranjuez. It was established around the time Philip II of Spain moved the capital from Toledo ...
File:Paris Notre Dame19042017.jpg,

Arc lamps

The first electric street lighting employed
arc lamps . The two lamps, used for laser pumping, are very different in the shape of the electrodes, in particular, the cathode (on the left). An arc lamp or arc light is a lamp that produces light by an electric arc (also called a voltaic arc). The carbo ...
, initially the 'Electric candle', 'Jablotchkoff candle' or '
Yablochkov candle A Yablochkov candle (sometimes electric candle) is a type of electric carbon arc lamp . The two lamps, used for laser pumping, are very different in the shape of the electrodes, in particular, the cathode (on the left). An arc lamp or arc light ...
' developed by a Russian, Pavel Yablochkov, in 1875. This was a carbon arc lamp employing
alternating current Alternating current (AC) is an electric current An electric current is a stream of charged particle In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'natu ...
, which ensured that both electrodes were consumed at equal rates. In 1876, the common council of the
City of Los Angeles Los Angeles (; es, Los Ángeles; "The Angels"), officially the City of Los Angeles and often abbreviated as L.A., is the List of cities and towns in California, largest city in California. With an estimated population of nearly four millio ...
ordered four arc lights installed in various places in the fledgling town for street lighting. On 30 May 1878, the first electric street lights in Paris were installed on the avenue de l'Opera and the Place d'Etoile, around the
Arc de Triomphe The Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile (, , ; ) is one of the most famous monuments in Paris Paris () is the Capital city, capital and List of communes in France with over 20,000 inhabitants, most populous city of France, with an estimated p ...

Arc de Triomphe
, to celebrate the opening of the Paris Universal Exposition. In 1881, to coincide with the Paris International Exposition of Electricity, street lights were installed on the major boulevards. The first streets in London lit with the electrical arc lamp were by the
Holborn Viaduct Holborn Viaduct is a road bridge in London and the name of the street which crosses it (which forms part of the A40 road, A40 route). It links Holborn, via Holborn Circus, with Newgate Street, in the City of London financial district, passi ...
and the
Thames Embankment The Thames Embankment is a work of 19th-century civil engineering that reclaimed marshy land next to the River Thames in central London. It consists of the Victoria Embankment and Chelsea Embankment. History There had been a long history of fa ...
in 1878. More than 4,000 were in use by 1881, though by then an improved differential arc lamp had been developed by Friedrich von Hefner-Alteneck of
Siemens & Halske Siemens & Halske AG (or Siemens-Halske) was a German electrical engineering company that later became part of Siemens Siemens AG ( ) is a German multinational conglomerate corporation headquartered in Munich and the largest industrial ...

Siemens & Halske
. The United States was quick in adopting arc lighting, and by 1890 over 130,000 were in operation in the US, commonly installed in exceptionally tall s. Arc lights had two major disadvantages. First, they emit an intense and harsh light which, although useful at industrial sites like dockyards, was discomforting in ordinary city streets. Second, they are maintenance-intensive, as carbon electrodes burn away swiftly. With the development of cheap, reliable and bright
incandescent light bulb An incandescent light bulb, incandescent lamp or incandescent light globe is an electric light An electric light is a device that produces visible light Light or visible light is electromagnetic radiation within the portion of the ...

incandescent light bulb
s at the end of the 19th century, arc lights passed out of use for street lighting, but remained in industrial use longer.

Incandescent lighting

The first street to be lit by an
incandescent lightbulb image of the tungsten Tungsten, or wolfram, is a chemical element with the Symbol (chemistry), symbol W and atomic number 74. Tungsten is a rare metal found naturally on Earth almost exclusively as compounds with other elements. It was identi ...
was Chesterfield Street, in Chesterfield. The street was lit for one night by
Joseph Swan Sir Joseph Wilson Swan Fellow of the Royal Society, FRS (31 October 1828 – 27 May 1914) was an English physicist, chemist, and inventor. He is known as an independent early developer of a successful incandescent light bulb, and is the per ...
's incandescent lamp on 3 February 1879. Consequently, Newcastle has the first city street in the world to be lit by electric lighting. The first city in the United States to successfully demonstrate electric lighting was
Cleveland Cleveland ( ), officially the City of Cleveland, is a city in the U.S. The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country primarily located in North America North ...

, Ohio with 12 electric lights around the
Public Square A town square (or square, plaza, public square, city square, urban square, or piazza) is an open public space A public space is a place that is generally open and accessible to people. Roads (including the pavement), public square A ...

Public Square
road system on 29 April 1879.
Wabash, Indiana Wabash is a city in Noble Township, Wabash County, Indiana, Noble Township, Wabash County, Indiana, Wabash County, in the U.S. state of Indiana. The population was 10,666 at the 2010 census. The city is the county seat of Wabash County, Indiana, Wa ...
lit 4 Brush arc lamps with 3,000
candlepower Candlepower (abbreviated as cp or CP) is an obsolete unit of measurement for luminous intensity In photometry, luminous intensity is a measure of the wavelength In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physik ...
each, suspended over their courthouse on 2 February 1880, making the town square "as light as midday".
Kimberley Kimberly or Kimberley may refer to: Places and historical events Australia * Kimberley (Western Australia) ** Roman Catholic Diocese of Kimberley * Kimberley Warm Springs, Tasmania * Kimberley, Tasmania a small town * County of Kimberley, a ca ...
Cape Colony The Cape Colony ( nl, Kaapkolonie), also known as the Cape of Good Hope, was a British British may refer to: Peoples, culture, and language * British people, nationals or natives of the United Kingdom, British Overseas Territories, and Cro ...
(modern South Africa), was the first city in the
Southern Hemisphere The Southern Hemisphere is the half (hemisphere Hemisphere may refer to: * A half of a sphere As half of the Earth * A hemispheres of Earth, hemisphere of Earth ** Northern Hemisphere ** Southern Hemisphere ** Eastern Hemisphere ** Western He ...

Southern Hemisphere
and in Africa to have electric street lights - with 16 first lit on 2 September 1882. The system was only the second in the world, after that of
Philadelphia Philadelphia (colloquially known simply as Philly) is the largest city in the Commonwealth A commonwealth is a traditional English term for a political community founded for the common good In philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is ...

, to be powered municipally. In Central America, , Costa Rica lit 25 lamps powered by a hydroelectric plant on 9 August 1884. Nürnberg was the first city in
Germany ) , image_map = , map_caption = , map_width = 250px , capital = Berlin Berlin (; ) is the Capital city, capital and List of cities in Germany by population, largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,769,495 inh ...
to have electric public lighting on 7 June 1882, followed by Berlin on 20 September 1882 (Potsdamer Platz only). Temesvár (Timișoara in present-day Romania) was the first city in the to have electric public lighting on 12 November 1884; 731 lamps were used. On 9 December 1882,
Brisbane Brisbane ( ) is the capital Capital most commonly refers to: * Capital letter Letter case (or just case) is the distinction between the letters that are in larger uppercase or capitals (or more formally ''majuscule'') and smaller low ...

, Queensland, Australia was introduced to electricity by having a demonstration of 8 arc lights, erected along
Queen Street Mall The Queen Street Mall is a pedestrian mall located on Queen Street in the centre of Brisbane Brisbane ( ) is the capital of and most populous city in the Australian state of Queensland Queensland ( ,) is a state situated in north ...

Queen Street Mall
. The power to supply these arc lights was taken from a 10 hp Crompton DC generator driven by a Robey steam engine in a small foundry in Adelaide Street and occupied by In 1884
Walhalla, Victoria Walhalla is a small town in Victoria Victoria most commonly refers to: * Victoria (Australia), a state of the Commonwealth of Australia * Victoria, British Columbia, provincial capital of British Columbia, Canada * Victoria (mythology), Roman ...
, Victoria, had two lamps installed on the main street by the Long Tunnel (Gold) Mining Company. In 1886, the isolated mining town of Waratah in
Tasmania Tasmania (), abbreviated as TAS, is an island An island (or isle) is an isolated piece of habitat that is surrounded by a dramatically different habitat, such as water. Very small islands such as emergent land features on atol ...
was the first to have an extensive system of electrically powered street lighting installed. In 1888, the New South Wales town of Tamworth installed a large system illuminating a significant portion of the city, with over 13 km of streets lit by 52 incandescent lights and 3 arc lights,. Powered a municipal power company, this system gave Tamworth the title of "First City of Light" in Australia. On 10 December 1885,
Härnösand Härnösand () is a Urban areas in Sweden, locality and the seat of Härnösand Municipality in Västernorrland County, Sweden with 17,556 inhabitants in 2010. It is called "the gate to the High Coast" because of the world heritage landscape just ...
became the first town in Sweden with electric street lighting, following the Gådeå power station being taken into use.

Later developments

Incandescent lamp image of the tungsten filament of an incandescent light bulb An incandescent light bulb, incandescent lamp or incandescent light globe is an electric light with a wire #Filament, filament heated until it glows. The filament is enclosed in a gla ...

Incandescent lamp
s were primarily used for street lighting until the advent of high-intensity
gas-discharge lamp Gas-discharge lamps are a family of artificial light sources that generate light by sending an electric discharge An electric discharge is the release and transmission of electricity in an applied electric field through a medium such as a gas. ...
s. They were often operated at high-voltage
series circuits (such as a battery, or in this case a cell) and 3 resistance units Terminal (electronics), Two-terminal A terminal is the point at which a electrical conductor, conductor from a electrical component, component, device or electrical network, ne ...
. Series circuits were popular since their higher voltage produced more light per watt consumed. Furthermore, before the invention of photoelectric controls, a single switch or clock could control all the lights in an entire district. To avoid having the entire system go dark if a single lamp burned out, each street lamp was equipped with a device that ensured that the circuit would remain intact. Early series street lights were equipped with isolation transformers. that would allow current to pass across the transformer whether the bulb worked or not. Later the film cutout was invented. This was a small disk of insulating film that separated two contacts connected to the two wires leading to the lamp. If the lamp failed (an
open circuitOpen circuit may refer to: *Open-circuit scuba A scuba set is any breathing apparatus that is carried entirely by an underwater diver and provides the diver with breathing gas A breathing gas is a mixture of gaseous chemical elements and comp ...
), the
current Currents or The Current may refer to: Science and technology * Current (fluid) A current in a fluid In physics, a fluid is a substance that continually Deformation (mechanics), deforms (flows) under an applied shear stress, or external force. ...
through the string became zero, causing the voltage of the circuit (thousands of volts) to be imposed across the insulating film, penetrating it (see
Ohm's law Ohm's law states that the current Currents or The Current may refer to: Science and technology * Current (fluid) A current in a fluid In physics, a fluid is a substance that continually Deformation (mechanics), deforms (flows) under an ap ...

Ohm's law
). In this way, the failed lamp was bypassed and power restored to the rest of the district. The street light circuit contained an automatic current regulator, preventing the current from increasing as lamps burned out, preserving the life of the remaining lamps. When the failed lamp was replaced, a new piece of film was installed, once again separating the contacts in the cutout. This system was recognizable by the large
porcelain Porcelain () is a ceramic A ceramic is any of the various hard, brittle, heat-resistant and corrosion-resistant Corrosion is a Erosion, natural process that converts a refined metal into a more chemically stable form such as oxide, ...

insulator separating the lamp and reflector from the mounting arm. This was necessary because the two contacts in the lamp's base may have operated at several thousand volts above ground.

Modern lights

Today, street lighting commonly uses
high-intensity discharge lamp High-intensity discharge lamps (HID lamps) are a type of electrical gas-discharge lamp which produces light by means of an electric arc between tungsten electrodes housed inside a translucent or transparent fused quartz or fused alumina ...
s. Low-pressure sodium (LPS) lamps became commonplace after World War II for their low power consumption and long life. Late in the 20th century high-pressure sodium (HPS) lamps were preferred, taking further the same virtues. Such lamps provide the greatest amount of illumination for the least consumption of electricity. However, white light sources have been shown to double driver peripheral vision and improve driver brake reaction time by at least 25%; to enable pedestrians to better detect pavement trip hazards and to facilitate visual appraisals of other people associated with interpersonal judgements. Studies comparing metal halide and high-pressure sodium lamps have shown that at equal photopic light levels, a street scene illuminated at night by a metal halide lighting system was reliably seen as brighter and safer than the same scene illuminated by a high-pressure sodium system. Two national standards now allow for variation in illuminance when using lamps of . In Australia, HPS lamp performance needs to be reduced by a minimum value of 75%. In the UK, illuminances are reduced with higher values S/P ratio New street lighting technologies, such as
LED An LED A light-emitting diode (LED) is a semiconductor A semiconductor material has an Electrical resistivity and conductivity, electrical conductivity value falling between that of a Electrical conductor, conductor, such as metallic ...
or induction lights, emit a white light that provides high levels of scotopic lumens allowing street lights with lower wattages and lower photopic lumens to replace existing street lights. However, there have been no formal specifications written around Photopic/Scotopic adjustments for different types of light sources, causing many municipalities and street departments to hold back on implementation of these new technologies until the standards are updated. Eastbourne in East Sussex UK is currently undergoing a project to see 6000 of its street lights converted to LED and will be closely followed by Hastings in early 2014. Many UK councils are undergoing mass-replacement schemes to LED, and though street lights are being removed along many long stretches of UK motorways (as they are not needed and cause light pollution), LEDs are preferred in areas where lighting installations are necessary.
Milan Milan (, , Milanese: ; it, Milano ) is a city in northern Italy, capital of Lombardy, and the List of cities in Italy, second-most populous city proper in Italy after Rome. The city proper has a population of about 1.4 million, while its ...

, Italy, is the first major city to have entirely switched to LED lighting. In North America, the city of
Mississauga Mississauga ( ) is a city in the Canadian province A province is almost always an administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnational entity, fir ...
(Canada) was one of the first and biggest LED conversion projects with over 46,000 lights converted to LED technology between 2012 and 2014. It is also one of the first cities in North America to use
Smart City A smart city is a technologically modern urban area An urban area, or built-up area, is a human settlement with a high population density and infrastructure of built environment. Urban areas are created through urbanization and are categorize ...
technology to control the lights. DimOnOff, a company based in
Quebec City Quebec City ( or ; french: Ville de Québec), officially Québec (), is the capital city of the Canadian province The provinces and territories of Canada () are sub-national divisions within the geographical areas of Canada under the juri ...

Quebec City
, was chosen as a Smart City partner for this project. Photovoltaic-powered LED luminaires are gaining wider acceptance. Preliminary field tests show that some LED luminaires are energy-efficient and perform well in testing environments. In 2007, the Civil Twilight Collective created a variant of the conventional LED streetlight, namely the Lunar-resonant streetlight. These lights increase or decrease the intensity of the streetlight according to the moon, lunar light. This streetlight design thus reduces energy consumption as well as light pollution.


Two very similar measurement systems were created to bridge the scotopic and photopic luminous efficiency functions, creating a Unified System of Photometry. This new measurement has been well-received because the reliance on V(λ) alone for characterizing night-time light illuminations requires more electric energy. The cost-savings potential of using a new way to measure mesopic lighting scenarios is tremendous. Outdoor Site-Lighting Performance (OSP) is a method for predicting and measuring three different aspects of light pollution: glow, trespass and glare. Using this method, lighting specifiers can quantify the performance of existing and planned lighting designs and applications to minimize excessive or obtrusive light leaving the boundaries of a property.


Major advantages of street lighting include prevention of accidents and increase in safety. Studies have shown that darkness results in a large number of crashes and fatalities, especially those involving pedestrians; pedestrian fatalities are 3 to 6.75 times more likely in the dark than in daylight. Several decades ago when automobile crashes were far more common, street lighting was found to reduce pedestrian crashes by approximately 50%. Furthermore, in the 1970s, lighted intersections and highway interchanges tend to have fewer crashes than unlighted intersections and interchanges. Lighting also reduces crime with one 2019 study suggesting that appropriate lighting reduces night crime by 36 percent. Towns, cities, and villages use the unique locations provided by lampposts to hang decorative or commemorative banners. Many communities in the US use lampposts as a tool for fund raising via lamppost banner sponsorship programs first designed by a US based lamppost banner manufacturer.


The major criticisms of street lighting are that it can actually cause accidents if misused, and cause light pollution.

Health and safety

There are two optical phenomena that need to be recognized in street light installations. * The loss of night vision because of the accommodation reflex of drivers' eyes is the greatest danger. As drivers emerge from an unlighted area into a pool of light from a street light their pupils quickly constrict to adjust to the brighter light, but as they leave the pool of light the dilation of their pupils to adjust to the dimmer light is much slower, so they are driving with impaired vision. As a person gets older the eye's recovery speed gets slower, so driving time and distance under impaired vision increases. * Oncoming headlights are more visible against a black background than a grey one. The contrast creates greater awareness of the oncoming vehicle. * Stray voltage is also a concern in many cities. Stray voltage can accidentally electrify lampposts and has the potential to injure or kill anyone who comes into contact with the post. There are also physical dangers to the posts of street lamps other than children climbing them for recreational purposes. Street light stanchions (lampposts) pose a collision risk to motorists and pedestrians, particularly those affected by poor eyesight or under the influence of alcohol. This can be reduced by designing them to break away when hit (known as frangible, collapsible, or ''passively safe'' supports), protecting them by guardrails, or marking the lower portions to increase their visibility. High winds or accumulated Fatigue (material), metal fatigue also occasionally topple street lights.

Light pollution


Light pollution can hide the stars and interfere with astronomy. In settings near astronomical telescopes and observatory, observatories, low pressure sodium lamps may be used. These lamps are advantageous over other lamps such as Mercury lamp, mercury and metal halide lamps because low pressure sodium lamps emit lower intensity, monochromatic light. Observatories can filter the sodium wavelength out of their observations and virtually eliminate the interference from nearby urban lighting. Full cutoff streetlights also reduce light pollution by reducing the amount of light that is directed at the sky which also improves the Luminous efficacy, luminous efficiency of the light.


Streetlights can impact biodiversity and ecosystems—for instance, disrupting the migration of some nocturnally migrating bird species. In the Netherlands, Philips found that birds can get disoriented by the red wavelengths in street lighting, and in response developed alternative lighting that only emit in the green and blue wavelengths of the visible spectrum. The lamps were installed on Ameland in a small scale test. If successful, the technology could be used on ships and offshore installations to avoid luring birds towards the open sea at night. Bats can be negatively impacted by streetlights, with evidence showing that red light can be least harmful. As a result, some areas have installed red LED streetlights to minimise disruption to bats. A study published in Science Advances reported that streetlights in southern England had detrimental impacts on local insect populations.

Energy consumption

As of 2017, globally 70% of all electricity was generated by burning fossil fuels, a source of air pollution and greenhouse gases, and also globally there are approximately 300 million street lights using that electricity. Cities are exploring more efficient energy use, reducing street light power consumption by dimming lights during off-peak hours and switching to high-efficiency LED lamps. Many councils are using a part-night lighting scheme to turn off lighting at quieter times of night. This is typically midnight to 5:30 AM, as seen by the sign on the right. There have, however, been questions about the impact on crime rates. Typical collector road lighting in New York State costs $6,400/mile/year for high pressure sodium at 8.5 kW/mile or $4,000 for light-emitting diode luminaires at 5.4 kW/mile. Improvements can be made by optimising directionality and shape, however. Transitioning to wide angle lights enabled the doubling of distance between street lights in Flanders from 45 m to 90 m, cutting annual street lighting electricity expenditures to €9 million for the 2150 km long network that was retrofitted, corresponding to ca. €4186/km.

Street light control systems

A number of street light control systems have been developed to control and reduce energy consumption of a town's public lighting system. These range from controlling a circuit of street lights and/or individual lights with specific ballasts and network operating protocols. These may include sending and receiving instructions via separate data networks, at high frequency over the top of the low voltage supply or wireless. Street light controllers are smarter versions of the mechanical or electronic timers previously used for street light ON-OFF operation. They come with energy conservation options like twilight saving, staggering or Dimmer, dimming. Many street light controllers come with an astronomical clock for a particular location or a Global Positioning System (GPS) connection to give the best ON-OFF time and energy saving.


Some Artificial intelligence, intelligent street light controllers also come with Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), Radio frequency (RF) or General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) communication, user adjusted according to latitude and longitude (low cost type), for better street light management and maintenance. Many street light controllers also come with traffic sensors to manage the lux level of the Lamp (electrical component), lamp according to the traffic and to save energy by decreasing lux when there is no traffic. The United States, Canada, India, and many other countries have started introducing street light controllers to their road lighting for energy conservation, street light management and maintenance purpose.


Street light controllers can be expensive in comparison with normal timers, and can cost between $100 and $2,500, but most of them return the investment between 6 months and 2 years. As the equipment's lifetime is 7 to 10 years, it saves energy and cost after the initial investment has been recouped.

Image-based street light control

A number of companies are now manufacturing intelligent street lighting that adjust light output based on usage and occupancy, i.e. automating classification of pedestrian versus cyclist, versus automobile, sensing also velocity of movement and illuminating a certain number of streetlights ahead and fewer behind, depending on velocity of movement. Also the lights adjust depending on road conditions, for example, snow produces more reflectance therefore reduced light is required.


There are three distinct main uses of street lights, each requiring different types of lights and placement. Using the wrong types of lights can make the situation worse by compromising visibility or safety.

Beacon lights

A modest steady light at the intersection of two roads is an aid to navigation because it helps a driver see the location of a side road as they come closer to it, so that they can adjust their braking and know exactly where to turn if they intend to leave the main road or see vehicles or pedestrians. A beacon light's function is to say "here I am" and even a dim light provides enough contrast against the dark night to serve the purpose. To prevent the dangers caused by a car driving through a pool of light, a beacon light must never shine onto the main road, and not brightly onto the side road. In residential areas, this is usually the only appropriate lighting, and it has the bonus side effect of providing spill lighting onto any sidewalk there for the benefit of pedestrians. On Interstate highways this purpose is commonly served by placing reflectors at the sides of the road.

Roadway lights

Because of the dangers discussed above, roadway lights are properly used sparingly and only when a particular situation justifies increasing the risk. This usually involves an intersection with several turning movements and much signage, situations where drivers must take in much information quickly that is not in the headlights' beam. In these situations (a freeway junction or exit ramp), the intersection may be lit so that drivers can quickly see all hazards, and a well-designed plan will have gradually increasing lighting for approximately a quarter of a minute before the intersection and gradually decreasing lighting after it. The main stretches of highways remain unlighted to preserve the driver's night vision and increase the visibility of oncoming headlights. If there is a sharp curve where headlights will not illuminate the road, a light on the outside of the curve is often justified. If it is desired to light a roadway (perhaps due to heavy and fast multi-lane traffic), to avoid the dangers of casual placement of street lights, it should not be lit intermittently since this requires repeated eye readjustment, which causes asthenopia, eyestrain and temporary blindness when entering and leaving light pools. In this case, the system is designed to eliminate the need for headlights. This is usually achieved with bright lights placed on high poles at close regular intervals so that there is consistent light along the route. The lighting goes from curb to curb. Further information: pedestrian crossing#Lighting.

Cycle path lights

Policy, Policies that encourage utility cycling have been proposed and implemented, including lighting bike paths to increase safety at night.

Usage on rail transport

Lights similar to street lights are used on
railway platform A railway platform is an area alongside a railway track Track or Tracks may refer to: Routes or imprints * Ancient trackway, any track or trail whose origin is lost in antiquity * Animal track, imprints left on surfaces that an animal walks acr ...

railway platform
s at train stations in the open air. Their purpose is similar to that of beacon lights: they help a train driver see the location of a station at night as the train comes closer to it, so that the driver can adjust the braking and know exactly where to stop. A train station light must never shine directly onto the tracks, and has the bonus side effect of providing spill lighting onto any platform for the benefit of passengers waiting there.


Street lighting systems require ongoing maintenance, which can be classified as either reactive or preventative. Reactive maintenance is a direct response to a lighting failure, such as replacing a discharge lamp after it has failed, or replacing an entire lighting unit after it has been hit by a vehicle. Preventative maintenance is scheduled replacement of lighting components, for example replacing all of the discharge lamps in an area of the city when they have reached 85% of their expected life. In the United Kingdom the Roads Liaison Group has issued a Code of Practice recommending specific reactive and preventative maintenance procedures. Some street lights in New York City have an orange or red light on top of the luminaire (light fixture) or a red light attached to the lamppost. This indicates that near to this lighting pole or in the same intersection, there is a fire alarm pull box. Other street lights have a small red light next to the street light bulb; when the small light flashes, it indicates an issue with the electrical current.

Street Lights as Public Goods

Street Lights are the basic example of Public good (economics), public goods, which are nonexcludable and nonrival. This means that the producer cannot prevent those who do not pay from consuming and the consumption of one person cannot prevent the consumption of another person. This becomes a problem for governments, because no private company would have the incentive to produce Street Lights, which is why most governments are in charge of placing and maintaining Street Lights. For example, in Armenia, building and maintaining infrastructure is the duty of local self governance.

Main manufacturers

;Australia * Osram Sylvania * Westinghouse Electric Corporation (1998), Westinghouse ;North America * American Electric Lighting (formerly ITT Corporation, ITT, later Thomas & Betts), US * Cooper Lighting division of Cooper Industries, US * General Electric, US * Osram Sylvania, US * Westinghouse Lighting Corporation (formerly Angelo Brothers) division of the new Westinghouse Electric (1998), Westinghouse Electric, US ;Europe * CU Phosco P107, Phosco Lighting, United Kingdom * Trilux, Germany * Osram, Germany * Philips, the Netherlands * Siemens, Germany * Svetlina AD, Bulgaria * Thorn Lighting, United Kingdom * :fr:Schréder, Schréder, Belgium
the Netherlands ;Asia * Panasonic Corporation, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Japan * Sanyo, Japan * Bajaj Electricals, India * K-Lite Industries, India File:Street light-hrad bratislava.JPG, A historical Slovak lamppost File:3lamps.jpg, Polish street lights from the 1930s File:Straßenlaterne.JPG, German streetlight at night File:2014-10-30 11 28 51 Old street lamp on Fireside Avenue in Ewing, New Jersey.JPG, Street light from the 1950s attached to a utility pole in New Jersey File:Lyktstolpar - Gatubelysning - Ystad-2021.jpg, Streetlights in Ystad 2021.

See also

* Charging station * Gas lighting * History of street lighting in the United States * Lighting-up time * Light pollution * List of light sources * Solar street light * Street furniture * Street light interference * Intelligent street lighting *Floodlight



* *

Further reading


External links

An enthusiast's guide to street lighting - including many close-up photographs of UK street lighting equipment, as well as information on installations through the ages. (UK)

Example Installation of Integrated Renewable Power in Street Lighting
an example of a street lighting system with integrated solar and wind generator from Panasonic Corporation, Panasonic/Matsushita
Australian Street Lights (an enthusiast site)

New Streetlights - LED streetlight news in North America

Transportation Lighting at the Lighting Research Center

{{DEFAULTSORT:Street Light Street lighting, Light fixtures Light pollution Street furniture Urban planning