Baltimore claims to have had the United States’ first gas street lamp, but that claim is erroneous. Though the Maryland city did indeed have the first publicly funded street lamp, it was in Newport, Rhode Island, that the country’s earliest gas street lamp first flickered to life.
David Melville was a pewterer who lived in Newport. In the early 1800s, he decided to create a gas-powered street lamp to light the space outside his house. There are some arguments as to the date his streetlight went into use, as some sources say it was 1803, while others say it was 1805.
In 1810, Melville obtained a patent for his invention. But despite interest from various political figures, he was unable to secure any funding. Seven years after he obtained his patent, a different model of a gas street lamp was introduced in Baltimore, first illuminating its Market Street in 1817.
Though Melville’s version is largely overshadowed by Baltimore’s gas street lamp glory, you can still find a small monument to his success—if you know where to look. A street light marks the spot where Melville’s original creation stood (the original beacon decayed in the harsh coastal New England winters). Next to the commemorative light, there’s a plaque that memorializes his achievement.
Know Before You Go
The bronze plaque and memorial street lamp are located on the little side street next to the 1 Pelham East nightclub. When standing on Thames St facing the green and white building, go up the street on the left side of the building a couple of yards. The light is actually on Pelham St.