Photo: Mario Pérez

Venezuela joined the electric energy grid in 1856, when engineer Manuel de Montúfar (1817-1870) laid out the first telegraph line between Caracas and La Guaira, with the support of José Tadeo Monagas’s government.

Previously, public lightning depended on lamps that used coconut oil or coconut lard as fuel.

Previously, public lightning depended on lamps that used coconut oil or coconut lard as fuel. Kerosene was introduced in Venezuela in 1856 and by 1860, it had already become the usual fuel for lamps in downtown Caracas and a few other cities in Venezuela. An attempt was made to replace it with gas, during José Antonio Páez’s third government, but the attempt was unsuccessful. Kerosene remained in place, reinforced by the import of kerosene lamps and by how easy it was to transport it. However, starting in 1883 Henry Lord Boulton created the Compañía Anónima del Gas and by 1890, it served 1,200 homes and stores; gas slowly replaced kerosene and then competed with electric lighting.

In 1873, the famous sage Vicente Marcano (1848-1891) lit up the Bolívar Square in Caracas for a few hours, a feat repeated a year later by German-born Venezuelan professor Adolfo Ernst (1832-1899). These attempts already involved electric energy, with equipment handled by the aforementioned scientists. On July 24, 1883, in the 100th anniversary of the Libertador’s birth, celebrated by Antonio Guzmán Blanco, businessman Carlos Palacios lit up a considerable area of downtown Caracas, including the Guzmán Blanco Theatre (today, the Municipal Theatre) and the Federal Capital boulevard, with a small electric power plant that ran on steam.

Maracaibo was the pioneer city in public electric lighting (a painful irony in the current situation). In 1888, Jaime Carrillo founded The Maracaibo Electric Light Company which, starting in 1940, became ENELVEN (Energía Eléctrica de Venezuela). The day of the 100th anniversary of general Rafael Urdaneta’s birth, on October 24, 1888, Maracaibo was first lit up with electric lamps, assisted by two steam machines.

Maracaibo was the pioneer city in public electric lighting (a painful irony in the current situation).

The following year, public electric lighting was established in Valencia. It was an initiative of American Michael Dooley, who installed a steam plant fed with firewood and coal. In 1895, the company Electricidad de Valencia is created with Carlos Ernesto Stelling as chairman, starting with the steam plant he bought from Dooley. Before that, in 1893, businessman Emilio Mauri expands the public lighting service in Caracas and in 1895 Caracciolo Parra Picón did the same in Mérida, opening the service in 1898. Public electric lighting is installed in Puerto Cabello in 1893, based on a supply contract originally signed by Francisco de Paula Quintero and the municipality.

In 1896, a small hydroelectric plant in the outskirts of Barquisimeto lit up the city’s downtown area some days a week, but two years later it was destroyed by the victors of one of the many skirmishes of Venezuela’s public life in the 19th century. So we could say that this was the country’s first hydroelectric central, but it was so small and lasted so little (less than two years), that we usually don’t consider it as such.

As we can see, despite the tremendous vicissitudes experienced by our country in the 19th century, there was always a marked interest for keeping up with global state-of-the-art technology, setting the pace for years to come.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.