Hartford’s First Ball Game Under Electric Lights

In Connecticut’s capital, a technological experiment occurred on Wednesday evening, July 23, 1890. It was Hartford’s first night baseball game aided by electric light. The event made national headlines and was touted as the “Greatest Novel Attraction of the Season” by the Hartford Courant. Ten arc lamps belonging to the Hartford Electric Company were connected to generators and suspended above Ward Street Grounds. More than 2,000 spectators paid admission to witness Connecticut’s first night baseball game.


At that time, the leisurely game of “base ball” had become a professional enterprise in Hartford – though it was a minor league one. The Hartfords were in last place in the Atlantic Association, and they needed a jolt in attendance. The night game allowed fans with day jobs to be patrons on a weekday. According to a humorous Hartford Post article, “The Hartford Base Ball team does well to play at night. Many of its games would look better in absolute darkness.”

Hartford Base Ball Association annual meeting, Hartford Courant, January 21, 1890.
Main Street, Hartford, CT, 1890.
Atlantic Association standings, 1890.


The evening game matched Hartford with the original Baltimore Orioles, and locals knew them well. Baltimore’s manager was “Bald Billy” Barnie, a former member of the 1874 Hartford Dark Blues. The Orioles featured a young Connie Mack at catcher, who started his career with Meriden and Hartford. Leading the hometown club were directors and shareholders of the Hartford Base Ball Association. A printer named A.W. Lang served as president of the organization and a former major leaguer named John M. Henry was Hartford’s manager. The team’s three-hitter was “Gentleman George” Stallings, who became a longtime manager in the big leagues.


Hartford would see a boost in ticket sales, but the evening game was a debacle. Due to an insufficient amount of light, the experiment was labeled a burlesque and a parody. Players were unable to track the ball in dim lighting, and batters were bunting for base hits. Every man on defense played in, and fielders rolled the ball to first base to record outs. The exhibition was called off after four innings. No official score was taken.

Ball by Electric Light, Hartford Courant, July 24, 1890.


While Hartford’s first night game failed, the attempt built upon previous experiments. Baseball by electric light traced back to July of 1880 – a year after Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb. The Boston Post reported on a night game between amateur nines at Nantasket Beach in Hull, Massachusetts. One of Edison’s rivals, Edward Weston, supplied the lights. Here’s a drawing of the Weston arc lamp:

Edward Weston arc lamp, 1880.


There were many naysayers and detractors to the idea, but Hartford’s club tested night baseball again in 1901. This time, a string of carbide lights were hung on poles around Hartford Base Ball Park (near Hanmer Street and Wethersfield Avenue). The game was described as a successful demonstration of night baseball. Spectators were said to be amused, and they did not seem to care that Hartford lost to Brockton, 15-8.

Hartford Base Ball Park (Wethersfield Avenue Grounds), c. 1900.

Sources:

  1. Eddleton, O. (1980). Under the Lights. Sabr.org. https://sabr.org/journal/article/under-the-lights/.
  2. Various articles, Hartford Courant database, Newspapers.com.

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