Gas Light at the Peale

Image courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Industry Archives, BGE 36T

In addition to being an artist, natural scientist, and museum director, Rembrandt Peale shared his family’s talent for innovation and entrepreneurship. He demonstrated gas light in his galleries, using the new energy technology of the day as an attraction to sell evening tickets to visit the museum.

It has been said that people would stand on Holliday Street in front of the Peale Museum marveling at the brightness of the light coming from its windows – an unprecedented sight in a world of candles and oil lamps.

Image courtesy of BGE.

By 1817, Peale had started the Baltimore Gas Company and secured the contract to supply gas street lights throughout Baltimore – the first city in America, and among the first in the world, to be lit by gas – hence its nickname, “Light City.”

The Peale Center, ca. 1814, shown in a reconstructed model in the context of a larger cityscape.
Detail of Holliday Street and the Peale ca. 1815 from UMBC’s EarlyBaltimore.org

Peale manufactured the gas in a shed at the back of the museum, and it was supplied to the city in wooden pipes made from hollowed out logs.

Thanks to BGE’s Steve Pedri and Mike Borlie, and David Conrad of Conrad’s Ruth Villa, the Peale’s gas lights have been restored to their former brilliance!

200 years later, the business Rembrandt Peale founded at his Museum is one of the oldest in the world: Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE), an Exelon Company.

Today BGE is restoring gas light to the historic lamps on the front and in the back garden of the Peale so that we can see the birthplace of BGE “in a new light” again!