Though villagers with torches and pitchforks emitted their own brand of outdoor lighting (and justice), the first real advances in the field came in the 1790s, when Scottish engineer William Murdoch figured out how to control ignited coal gas, thereby inventing the gaslight. Typically housed in a glass lantern, the gaslight brightened the thoroughfares of the 19th century. Beforehand, cities had relied on candles to offer nocturnal visibility, often enacting laws requiring those who lived in street-front houses to keep a flame burning through the evening. And electricity quickly rendered coal gas obsolete when Pavel Yablochkov introduced his Yablochkov Candle to the Parisian elite in 1878. Electric street lamps were born and promptly became de rigueur.
Stateside, arguably the greatest moment in the history of outdoor illumination came on May 24, 1935, at Crosley Field, then the home of the Cincinnati Reds. President Roosevelt flipped the switch from the Oval Office 600 miles away and 1,090,000 watts crackled to life, illuminating the 632 lamps that kicked off the era of night baseball. By the mid-1960s the majority of Major League games were played at night. The Chicago Cubs were the lone holdout, playing only day games at Wrigley Field until August 9, 1988, when, like Dylan at Newport, they too went electric.
While illuminating a ballgame is a feat few of us will ever undertake, America’s backyard culture demands serious lumens. We enlisted a giant in the realm of outdoor furniture, Richard Schultz, and his son Peter, president of Richard Schultz Design, to weigh in on six sleek additions to the ever-brightening firmament of outdoor lighting. They shed some light on these designs’ aesthetics, luminosity, and materials, as well as just what precisely should be replacing that tiki torch.
Aaron writes the men's style column "The Pocket Square" for the San Francisco Chronicle and has written for the New York Times, the Times Magazine, Newsweek, National Geographic and others.
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