© 2024
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

March 1: A Narrow Escape

Ways To Subscribe

The Gas Light Company of Baltimore was the first American commercial gas lighting company, making Baltimore, in 1817, the first American city illuminated by gas flames. Gas lighting soon spread across the country, although some areas were slow to catch on. It wasn’t until the 1880s that the Dakotas began to light up the night with gas lamps. By the early twentieth century most American cities had streets, homes, and businesses illuminated by gas, with rural areas still dependent on lanterns.

Gas lighting was a nice convenience, but it came with danger, and there were no regulations to promote safety. Leaking pipes and unreliable pressure resulted in fires and explosions. Since rural areas did not have gas lighting, people who lived outside of cities were not familiar with its use. This sometimes led to accidents when people from the country visited cities where gas lights were common.

On this date in 1906, a newspaper report told the story of one naïve traveler’s close call. His name was Norman Said. He had checked into a Grand Forks hotel, then ventured out for a night on the town. He engaged in what the Evening Times described as “a heroic effort to sample the quality of everything from a ‘sherry flip’ to a ‘Milwaukee schooner.’” After a night of sampling the alcoholic offerings, Mr. Said returned to his room in the early hours of the morning. Since he was from a rural area, he was unfamiliar with gas lamps like those in his hotel. After getting undressed, he blew out the light and went to bed just like he would have at home.

The drunken man was most fortunate that the night clerk made his rounds and smelled gas coming from the room. He broke in and managed to drag the man to the hallway. It was reported that Said was close to death, but once in the fresh air, he soon began to recover. He checked out of the hotel and returned to the country where he most likely was quite happy to once again use lanterns for lighting.

 Dakota Datebook by Dr. Carole Butcher


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Related Content