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.

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16 COMMENTS

  1. I love reading this history stuff. The people must have been in awe.

    I wonder what they will say about Chavismo 150 years from now?

  2. Guapo, in 1856 the people of Venezuela were in awe of that new and powerful thing called electricity. Today, 2018, the people of Venezuela are again in awe of that new and powerful thing called electricity when the see it.

  3. 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.

    Rafael,

    You can’t throw that out there and not give us the skinny on the “destruction by the victors”.

    What happened?

    ElGuapo

  4. From what I’ve heard, this pueblo didn’t have “standard” electrical power until 1965. Before that the entire town was provided by a generator that was cranked up in the AM and shut down around 10PM. I’ve heard the locals talking about kerosene refrigerators.

  5. I’m having trouble wrapping my head around the fact that there was a hydroelectric plant in VZ in 1896, or anywhere.

    I just thought this technology came much later.

    • The old Schoelkopf Power Station No. 1 near Niagara Falls in the U.S. side began to produce electricity in 1881. The first Edison hydroelectric power station, the Vulcan Street Plant, began operating September 30, 1882, in Appleton, Wisconsin, with an output of about 12.5 kilowatts

    • Generation of electrical current was relatively easy, following the discoveries of Michael Faraday. The challenge was how to distribute it: alternating or direct? High voltage or low voltage (people feared that high voltage cables laid under streets would result in electrocution of pedestrians)? One of the earliest successful implementations of a modern distribution system was in Deptford (nr. London), England, conceived by the Italian Sebastian Ferranti. In 1889 he built a steam-driven generator producing alternating current at 10,000 volts, and distributed it by cables laid under streets to local transformers where it was stepped down to voltages used by consumers. I have an inch-long section of the 10,000 volt cable on my desk, where it serves as a handsome paperweight.

  6. Bernard, that’s a pretty cool paperweight! And yes there was a pretty nasty competition that went on between the proponents of AC and the proponents of DC. An elephant even got electrocuted in the fray! It’s a very interesting story of how AC finally came out on top.

    • I think that this elephant was electrocuted with DC in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Not totally sure.

      But I am sure it was just a publicity stunt…it changed people’s thinking overnight and it was totally based on the AC versus DC commercial interests debate…and it was ridiculous.

      AC is just as much, or far more deadly, than DC.

  7. As a young boy in the 70’s my parents made a trip to El Callao. The story I was told was that because it was a company mining town, and the English were involved and it was privately done, El Callao was electrified before Caracas. Could it have been the first one?

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