Light of the world
By KEVIN LEININGER
from the archives of The News-Sentinel
If you're a baseball fan, you owe a tip of the cap to an early Fort Wayne industry with the unlikely name of the Jenney Electric Co. In June 1883 -
about two years after the company was formed - Jenney Electric attached 17
electric arc lamps to the outfield fences of a Fort Wayne baseball field.
Night baseball was born, and the game was apparently a big hit with Fort Wayne
fans. The contest attracted an overflow crowd.
The rest of Jenney's brief history is not quite as colorful, but it is
interesting nevertheless. James A. Jenney came to town in 1881 to manufacture
an arc lamp and small electric dynamo he had invented. He set up shop in a
cramped brick building at Wells and Superior street, but by 1886 his company
had grown enough to move to a new site on Broadway near the tracks of the
Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago railroad.
Just two weeks after Jenney arrived in Fort Wayne, he attracted 2,000
people to a public display of his new arc lights. It was the first time the
dim glare of electric lamps was seen in the Summit City. Jenney lamps were
soon used commercially; the first being installed in the Home Billiard Parlor.
Jenney's products were beginning to get rave reviews throughout the country.
In 1884 the company lighted the New Orleans World's Fair. A year later,
Jenney lamps were the first ever to light the Statue of Liberty. An 1887
advertisement duly noted Jenney products had received top honors at the 1883
Great Southern Exposition in Louisville. The Jenney system, according to the
advertisement, ``has no equal for simplicity, durability and strength of light.''
Despite the company's glowing reputation, however, it was in financial
trouble by 1888. In that year, it was purchased by the Thomson-Houston Co. and
renamed the Fort Wayne Electric Light Co. In December 1890, James J. Wood came
to Fort Wayne to serve as the company's chief electrician. Wood had earlier
invented a sparkfree dynamo and arc lamp, and after the company again
reorganized in 1894 it marketed its products under the ``Wood Systems''
trademark. (Wood, by the way, invented the stationary and revolving fans in
In January 1899, the Fort Wayne Electric Corp. (as it was then called) was
officially absorbed by the General Electric Co., which itself had been born in
1892 through a merger of Thomson-Houston and Edison General Electric. By 1916,
Fort Wayne's electric works had become officially known as the General
Electric Co., which still occupies some of the original Jenney buildings at
its Broadway plant.
So, just like the Dudlo Manufacturing Co., Jenney Electric was a large, early Fort Wayne industry later consumed by another company still active in Fort Wayne today. Dudlo facilities are now occupied by Essex Wire. An interesting final note: Fort Wayne's first electric streetcar was developed in 1891 by Jenney chief engineer Marmaduke Slattery. Slattery's trolley was considered too expensive and unreliable,
though, and the transit system returned to horses - for a year, at least. The
city's streetcar system was finally electrified by Fort Wayne Electric in July
1892 at a cost of $100,000.
--Dec. 19, 1982