Washington DC History Resources

Matthew B. Gilmore

Washington Goes Wireless: The District’s 20-Year Struggle to Put Utility Wires Underground

BY: Matthew B. Gilmore

Click here for the complete article: http://intowner.com/2015/10/17/washington-goes-wireless-the-districts-20-year-struggle-to-put-utility-wires-underground/

In Washington, DC complaints about overhead wires came almost as soon as there were overhead wires. But the beginning of the fight to remove overhead wires dates to the Territorial period. The Evening Star on December 29, 1873 published a letter from prominent architect Adolph Cluss advocating undergrounding aerial telegraph wires. “From year to year,” he wrote, “these wires will come in greater conflict with our stately rows of shade trees which grace our streets. Shall not this progressive country, in which telegraphy has attained an immeasurable prominence, take a leading part in obtaining an independence of communication from all accidents, and where is there a better opportunity than in postal underground telegraph.”

Overhead electric power lines on Georgia Ave. NW, ca. 1940.

Overhead electric power lines on Georgia Ave. NW, ca. 1940. photo–Theodor Horydczak; Library of Congress.

Cluss’s letter to the Star was the first volley in the battle to “underground” overhead wires — first telegraph and then all types. It would take the energies of successive Territorial Commission governments, along with the enthusiasm and dedication of engineer commissioners in partnership with Congress, to overcome the legal, political, and technological challenges of the task.

F. V. Greene

F. V. Greene


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