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American IlluminationsUrban Lighting, 1800-1920$
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David E. Nye

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780262037419

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262037419.001.0001

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Light as Political Spectacle

Light as Political Spectacle

(p.185) 8 Light as Political Spectacle
American Illuminations

David E. Nye

The MIT Press

Americans inherited illuminations and fireworks from the British, adapting them to their democratic culture. At first they played a small role in political life, but were reserved for July Fourth or the opening of major public works. By 1915, however, spectacular illuminations had become a central part of patriotic celebrations, whether Columbus Day, the celebration of Admiral Dewey’s victory over the Spanish fleet, election campaigns, or presidential inaugurations. The intertwining of politics and commercial methods of spectacular lighting culminated during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, in bond drives, in the relighting of the Statue of Liberty, and in peace celebrations in Washington after World War I. In contrast, illuminations were depoliticized in Britain during the nineteenth century. On both sides of the Atlantic, culture shaped technology.

Keywords:   illuminations, politics, Columbus Day, Admiral Thomas Dewey, elections, presidential inaugurations, Woodrow Wilson, Statue of Liberty, International Festival of Peace, Claude Bragdon

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