The epilogue provincializes what is usually the start or climax of any history of illumination, the emergence of Thomas Edison’s incandescent light. Taking a fresh look at the process historians have called “electrification,” the epilogue re-entangles two stories that should never have been so neatly separated. The first story follows the staging of performances of electric light. It begins in 1882, with the opening of the Boston Bijou Theatre, the first electrically lit theater in the United States, and concludes in 1893 with the electric utopianism on display at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The second story delves into the underground politics of copper lode mining. It, too, begins in 1882 and ends in 1893, years that marked the beginning of Butte’s rise as the undisputed copper capital of the world and the formation of the Western Federation of Miners, one of the most radical and influential labor organizations in the history of the United States. Weaving these two narratives back together brings into sharp relief the tensions and contradictions that gripped Gilded Age society and illuminates, too, the curious dialectic of risk and inequality that accompanied the seemingly miraculous progress of electrification.
Keywords: Boston Bijou Theatre, Thomas Edison, electric lighting, copper mining, Butte, Montana, World’s Columbian Exposition, Western Federation of Miners, organized labor, risk and inequality, Gilded Age
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