Darkness ruled the night on city streets until streetlights illuminated avenues with kindly light. On this date in 1914, the Grand Forks Herald published an article proclaiming that the town of Cando had completed a new “White Way” of electric streetlights.
The “White Way” terminology came from Broadway in New York City, which had a “Great White Way” of tungsten-filament electric streetlights and illuminated signs on storefronts. Broadway’s Great White Way was considered the most talked about street in “North and South America and the most prosperous avenue in the world.”
A “White Way” lit up downtown streets so that shoppers would flock to the blazing lights just like moths. Even a small town like Cando, in Towner County, wanted to have a “white way” to show that its downtown business district was a thriving place. Cando’s boosters boasted about 28 newly-installed streetlamps that made “everything bright” with a “new radiance” along the town’s two main business blocks. The article reported that “pedestrians smiled in a pleased sort of way” at the “bright zone” of light in their progressive little city.
The White Way system was part of the “City Beautiful Movement” from 1900 through the 1920s, in which communities worked to improve all aspects of city life. The rapid growth of American cities after the Civil War had created haphazard development of business and industrial areas, plagued by poor sewerage and sanitation, with muddy streets polluted by horse manure and uncollected garbage. The City Beautiful Movement brought paved avenues, manicured parks and boulevards, and municipal sewer, electric, and water works.
The White Way brought new light and life to downtown businesses across the face of North Dakota by promoting extended shopping hours in the evening; while its brilliant beams also deterred crime. Grand Forks led the “White Way” movement in the state, installing tungsten lights in 1911. Underground wiring eliminated the ugly overhead wires from earlier arc lights; and ornamental lampposts with white-glass globes brought beauty to it downtown avenues.
Other towns built their own “white ways” – Hatton, Dickinson and Ray in 1912; Kenmare, Minot, Wahpeton and Devils Lake in 1913. And on this date in 1914 it was Cando’s turn, with the “White Way” of streetlights showing the town’s spirit of “civic pride, prosperity . . . safety . . . [and] enterprise.”
Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.
SOURCES: “White Way Pleases [Cando],” Grand Forks Herald, January 28, 1914.
Ornamental Street-Lighting: A Municipal Investment and Its Return (New York: National Electric Light Association, 1912), p. 5-8, 17, 19.
“What’s Wrong With the ‘White Ways’ of Many Cities,” Minneapolis Tribune, April 16, 1914, p. E3.
“War Over Poles,” Grand Forks Herald, November 2, 1913, p. 14.
“White Way For Hatton,” Grand Forks Herald, August 24, 1912, p. 4.
“Devils Lake White Way Will Be Ready By July Fifteenth,” Grand Forks Herald, June 17, 1913, p. 4.
“Minot’s White Way,” Grand Forks Herald, October 16, 1913, p. 4.
“White Way Complete [Wahpeton],” Grand Forks Herald, October 5, 1913, p. 4.
“Great White Way Will Be Turned On Next Week; The Globes Have Arrived,” Minot Daily Optic, November 14, 1913, p. 1.
“Ray Has White Way,” Grand Forks Herald, July 28, 1912, p. 5.
“[Dickinson] Will Have White Way,” Grand Forks Herald, July 28, 1912, p. 5.