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Mast Arms and Pendant Arc Lights

By the late 1920s, street lights were extended further over the streets to provide better light for automobile travel. Brackets and arms were attached to posts. However, very utilitarian pendant arc lights can be found even earlier, in the early 1900s and 1910s, in locations where traditional lampposts were too expensive to install.

The less expensive alternative to the decorative mast arms were the simple makeshift brackets that attached directly to an existing utility pole. These lamps, seen in the images below, had flat, round shades and pendant bulbs. These were common in Vermont during the 1920s and 1930s and often earlier. Often, a pendant light would hang over the street on a wire. This practice can be seen as early as the 1900s and 1910s.

Makeshift Pendant Arcs

Makeshift Pendant Arcs: Image courtesy of the University of Vermont Landscape Change Program.

The image of the left, called a Bishop's Crook post, and the image in the center reflect trends of the late 1920s to the early 1930s. The lights are characterized by their decorative posts and hanging pendant bulbs, so called because the bulbs hang like pendants from the fixture rather than sit atop a post.

Pendant Arc Lights

Pendant Arc Lights: Image courtesy of American City, 1911. Image courtesy of Alfred Holden.

Below are examples of the decorative pendant bulbs utilized in the pendant arc lamps.

Pendant Arc Bulbs

Pendant Arc Bulbs: Image courtesy of John Jakle, City Lights: Illuminating the American Night, 2001.

Eventually the brackets evolved into mast arms, long, straight arms that extend far over the roadway. Late 1920s and early 1930s mast arms were decorative, as seen in the image below.

Decorative Mast Arm

Decorative Mast Arm: Image courtesy of American City.

During the 1930s, fixtures became more streamlined and simplified. Brackets were stripped of ornament and often makeshift lights were created by attaching a simple bracket to an already existing utility pole. These 1930s fixtures, seen below, are characterized by their simple brackets and pendant bulbs.

Streamlined Bracket

Streamlined Bracket: Image courtesy of Alfred Holden.

By WWII, the flat shade, bare bulb lamp on a makeshift bracket was the dominant type of street light.

Flat Shade

Flat Shade: Image courtesy of Alfred Holden.

Beginning in 1946, cities began to strip ornamental light fixtures and replace them with utilitarian sodium vapor lights. The sodium vapor light was a brighter floodlight. In 1960, the cobra head light was employed for additional light and crime-fighting safety.

Cobra Head

Cobra Head: Image courtesy of Alfred Holden.

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