Widely known as La Ville Lumière or the ‘City of Lights’, Paris is famed for its streetlights, first tested in the late 18th century and which became a symbol of the city during the Belle Époque. It was when the whole world was in Paris, during World Expo 1878, that one of the most advanced forms of electrical lighting of its time – the Yablochkov candle – made its debut.
Two years prior to the World Expo, Russian engineer Pavel Yablochkov made the first model of an electric arc lamp, which was later developed into a complete system of electric lighting powered by direct current generators. Named after its creator, the Yablochkov candle consisted of two parallel carbon sticks, separated by a column acting as an insulator and connected at top.
Seeking to showcase its technical and artistic prowess at Expo 1878, Paris opted to install 64 lamps along the celebrated Avenue de l’Opéra and the Place de l’Opéra. Yablochkov garnered praise for the mechanism, which produced a bright light ideal for illuminating streets, while remaining competitive with gas lamps. Yablochkov signed a distribution contract with Siemens and the technology was rapidly adopted in London, before becoming popular across Europe, with over 2,500 candles being installed in the continent by 1880.
The Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) is the intergovernmental organisation in charge of overseeing and regulating World Expos, Specialised Expos, Horticultural Expos and the Triennale di Milano.