A History of Electricity and Invisible Energy in America

by admin on September 29, 2020

Turn on the switch to keep your dirty lights on

“§ When They Hid the Fire §”

Book by Daniel French, University of Pittsburgh Press, November 2016

ABOUT THE AUTHORDaniel French is an adjunct professor of history at the University of Toledo, where he teaches the history of business and technology. He is also an adjunct instructor of history at Jackson College in Jackson, Michigan.

BOOK SUMMARYWhen They Hid the Fire examines the American social perceptions of electricity as an energy technology that were adopted between the mid-nineteenth and early decades of the twentieth centuries. Arguing that both technical and cultural factors played a role, Daniel French shows how electricity became an invisible and abstract form of energy in American society. As technological advancements allowed for an increasing physical distance between power generation and power consumption, the commodity of electricity became consciously detached from the environmentally destructive fire and coal that produced it. This development, along with cultural forces, led the public to define electricity as mysterious, utopian, and an alternative to nearby fire-based energy sources. With its adoption occurring simultaneously with Progressivism and consumerism, electricity use was encouraged and seen as an integral part of improvement and modernity, leading Americans to culturally construct electricity as unlimited and environmentally inconsequential—a newfound “basic right” of life in the United States.

REVIEWWhen They Hid the Fire is an important historical study that helps us understand how the electric power system—a key element of modern society’s infrastructure—became invisible. The unseen nature of electricity has had profound policy implications because consumers generally have no idea that power production often results in serious environmental degradation. This book forces readers to confront their history and to think about how their energy futures might need to change. Richard F. Hirsh, Virginia Tech University

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See also: Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott – “Keep Your Dirty Lights On” (eTown webisode #566) – YouTube

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Darrell Scott September 29, 2020 at 9:03 am

Keep Your Dirty Lights On

(Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott)

(LYRICS 2013)

Well my Daddy came from coal dust
And me I’m bout the same
If you’ve read King Coal’s ledger book
Then you’ve seen my family name
It used to take a camp of miners
To load that train and gone
Now there’s four in my crew and we do what we do
To keep your dirty lights on

Keep your dirty lights on
Keep your dirty lights on
If you’ve got money in your pocket and a switch on the wall
We’ll keep your dirty lights on

Well Daddy worked in darkness
Me in broad daylight
I can blow a whole seam like daddy never dreamed
Using old bill’s dynamite
As long as there’s coal in them mountains
We’re gonna burn up it till it’s gone
We can’t stop blowing mountain tops
We’ve gotta keep your dirty lights on

Every time they have elections
They talk how coal is clean
Well coal is cheap but coal’s still black
It aint never turning green
So plug your electric car in
Charge it good and strong
Do your shopping online we’ll get you every time
Just keep your dirty lights on


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