1890 – 1910s An Electrifying Transformation

1890 – 1910s The Advent of Reticulated Electrical Products


early household meter
First household electrical meter (France)
marble switchboard
Marble console with fuses and switches c1900. Baekelite’s invention of the first synthetic plastic in 1907 mean Baekelite consoles become the norm.

Electrical products generated locally using water turbines and combustion engines (coal, kerosine, coal gas etc.)
Simple electro-mechanical “dial” meters.
Manual circuit breakers (switches) Simple fuse with sacrificial wire manually replaced.
Low quality insulation.
Dwelling grids may be DC Direct Current or AC Alternating Current (110 v or other voltage grids) in the era before the amalgamation of community grids and the associated standardization to AC 230v

Common uses of electrical products:
lighting, trams, refrigeration, mining.


Mechanism of electromechanical induction meter.

Visual by observing meter readings,
fuse loading,  appliance performance etc).
Data is recorded manually onto paper.


reefton water-driven  turbine
1888 Reefton’s water driven turbine. First public electrical lighting system in the Southern Hemisphere

Reticulation grids are small-scale and privately owned in general e.g. large manufacturing and agricultural firms. The firm owning the system owns the information. Increasingly larger towns begin establishing Municipal Electricity Departments and purchasing local generation plant. This enables them to create integrated municipal networks and enhance the development of community lighting and transport systems. Considerable tension emerges between democratic, community-owned, service-driven institutions and private-corporate, profit-driven institutions.
Most NZers are rural and have no access to a network because profit-driven, private companies have no motivation to build the extensive grid required.

1910 electricty advertisement
Melbourne Museum 1910 advertisement for “electricity” supply company

The English language remains relatively civic and embraces the principles of physic. However the state of science in communities begins to diminish as the “electricity” symbol becomes associated with a narrow class of electrical phenomena i.e. with the conflation  of 230 volt electrical products with all electrical phenomena i.e.

Common Perception of Dwelling 230v Control Console

Commonly sited near ceiling on wall of dwelling entrance hall way. Sometimes sited high on wall in servant area (pantries and kitchens) of rich households.
Boards measure up to a square meter and are made of fire resistant materials including marble. Oxygen and light easily perish the insulation of the wiring. Thus the wire terminals on the console are particularly dangerous because of the high risk of fire and electrical shock. Most people learn that this is a no-go zone in their home.
Electrical products symbolized as “electrical” or “electric” e.g. electrical lights, electrical irons etc. Meter readers were known as the “electric light man”.

Health / ecology

Streets become cleaner as electrically-driven trams replace horses in larger towns. Localized air pollution diminishes as small-scale hydro-electric systems replace steam engines. Factories and homes become cleaner and lighter as electrical lamps replace combustion lighting.

1910-1950s a National Network of community-owned grids

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