“BIG CONCRETE DAM AT ELLSWORTH COMPLETED,” said a large headline in the Bangor Daily Commercial on Jan. 23, 1908. The story continued, “The big dam of the Bar Harbor and Union River Power Co. at Ellsworth is completed and the waters of the Union River are harnessed to do the bidding of man. … The massive structure of concrete and steel stands as a monument to the power and sagacity of man in his triumph over the forces of nature, chaining them and directing them to turn wheels which will generate electricity to run [trolley] cars, lights, elevators, mills and other aids to man’s prosperity.”
Imagine such a proclamation today on the pages of a daily newspaper! Thomas Edison said it was the way to do things. The Commercial continued its discussion of the new dam and its potential in an editorial on July 31 by quoting the great wizard: “Edison remarked the other day, that in his opinion, no one has the least comprehension of the possibilities of electric development and this is doubtless true, but the world is becoming educated. Thursday Bar Harbor began to receive its power for its electric lighting from the great plant at Ellsworth which proposes later on to send its electric current to this city and beyond.”
Imagine that. Electricity was going to be piped all the way from Ellsworth to Bangor! How many people know where their electricity comes from today?
It was no accident that John R. Graham, Bangor’s own electricity wizard, was the president of both the Bar Harbor and Union River Power Co. and the Bangor Railway & Electric Co. He was a man with a vision. He needed reliable power to run his trolley cars from Hampden to Old Town and from Bangor to Charleston and over in Brewer. He also needed it to encourage more people to have their businesses and homes wired for electricity.
“POWER TURNED ON,” said a headline in the Commercial on Nov. 9, 1908. “Bangor Now Receives Electricity From Union River.” The year before, the Bangor Railway and Electric Co.’s trolley and electrical lighting system had shut down briefly when Penobscot River ice backed up at the Veazie dam, where the company’s power station was located. Trolleys had stopped in the middle of the street. People had to light their kerosene lamps. They wouldn’t have to worry about that sort of thing happening anymore, promised Graham.
By that November the Union River power was going from Ellsworth all the way to Bar Harbor and on to Northeast Harbor, and from Ellsworth to Veazie to some factories and homes in Bangor and on to the farthest reaches of the trolley system, “in all a distance of 100 miles,” said the newspaper. The loss of power in transmission was judged to be very slight — only an average of about 3 percent. A few years before there had been a loss of 40 percent between Veazie and Bangor. What immense progress, the paper declared.
The city of Bangor, which had its own electrical system powered from the Bangor dam, also was making improvements. These were aimed at reducing the cost of streetlights. “Carbon filament series lamps” and “the common arc lights” were rapidly being replaced. “The new illuminating agent is the tungsten lamp, a new lamp that is fast taking the place of the old lights both in interior and outdoor lighting,” said the Commercial on Dec. 4.
Tungsten lamps had been on the market for only two years. “Bangor now has 450 street lights to illuminate the highways and byways of the town after dark and of the whole number 150 are tungstens,” the newspaper reported.
The arc lamps consumed six times more current than the tungsten lamps, “consequently where one arc was used, six tungstens can be put in a series not consuming anymore current, but illuminating a much larger space because they are spread apart on the street.” If anything happened to an arc light the street was in total darkness, while the loss of one tungsten had much less impact. The individual arc lights, however, produced a great deal more light than a tungsten, so it would be a long time before they would be replaced in the business section of the city or at major intersections elsewhere, said the Commercial.
In his report later that month, the city electrician, Charles W. Cunningham, declared Bangor to be “one of the best lighted cities of its size in the United States.” One important change made recently was the installation of a separate circuit on the old toll bridge between Bangor and Brewer, the ends of which were covered. This separate circuit allowed officials to turn the bridge lights on earlier in the evening and to leave them on later in the morning than in the rest of the city so the bridge would not be “dark and gloomy,” reported the Commercial on Dec. 29.
Cunningham outlined the system used to make sure all the streetlights were up and running in Bangor. As soon as the lights were turned on at night, two men began the 9-mile inspection tour of the whole system, looking for burned-out lamps. A light could blow out, however, after the inspectors had passed. If residents spotted a burned-out bulb, Cunningham asked them to call the substation at 38-1 (it was open until midnight), or to call him at home at 319-2. Imagine that!