Relive New Bedford’s 1921 ‘National Electric Day’ Celebration
Some might argue that New Bedford is behind the times. Well, that hasn't always been the case.
As a matter of fact, as America ushered in the roaring 20s – the 1920s, that is – New Bedford was right there at the forefront of technology with the other metropolitan centers across the country.
New Bedford not only had electricity, but it had streetcars powered by electricity.
The electric streetcars introduced by the Union Street Railway Company replaced horse-drawn cars and were celebrated on National Electric Day on May 4, 1921.
Union Street Railway took dignitaries including Mayor Charles S. Ashley for one last horse-drawn car ride from its car barn at Weld and Purchase Streets into downtown New Bedford as part of the celebration.
The ride took participants past such landmarks as Browne's Pharmacy, the majestic Olympia Theater, and Trulls Shoes which offered rubbers for sale, something you don't often see these days.
The population of New Bedford in 1920, according to U.S Census Bureau figures, was more than 121,000 people – some 20,000 more than today. It seems everyone turned out for the National Electric Day celebration.
A ride on the streetcar in 1921 cost five cents, the same Union Street Railway charged when it launched the horse-drawn cars in 1872.
The company boasted, "Old-time service is slow and uncomfortable. Today we have speed, safety, & comfort."
The electric streetcars were popular with folks looking to catch the Buzzard's Bay Express on the Mattapoisett Line or to Dartmouth's Lincoln Park, which was owned by Union Street Railway Company, for some dancing.
Other stops included Padanaram in South Dartmouth and the Fort Phoenix, Oxford, and Howland Village Stops in Fairhaven.
According to Gizmodo.com, "In 1920, just 35 percent of American Households had electricity. By 1929, nearly 68 percent of American homes were electrified. But, if you don't count farms, about 85 percent of Americans had electricity by the end of the 1920s."