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The Evolution of Stadium Lighting

Stadium lights in fog

Did you watch the Super Bowl this year? Whether you were rooting for the Buccaneers, the Chiefs or your team wasn’t in the game this year, it’s one of the most exciting weekends of the NFL season. Or maybe football isn’t your sport, and you’re more of a soccer or major league baseball fan. What do all of these sports have in common? They play in large stadiums that rely on massive stadium lights to allow the game to go on.

What Did We Do Before Modern Stadium Lighting?

While it might be hard to imagine, Friday Night Lights haven’t always been possible. Before the invention of stadium lighting, games had to be played during the day.

Let’s take it back in time to the first documented sporting event, the Olympic Games of Ancient Greece. They actually did have a pretty famous light, the Olympic torch, but it served no practical purpose, in fact, it’s been symbolic since its origin. Way back then, once the sun set, the games were complete for the day.

The 1800s

Soon after Thomas Edison invented the incandescent light bulb in 1879, sports enthusiasts were quick to adapt these lights into some sort of stadium lighting. It was just one year after Edison’s invention that lights were used to play not a professional sports game, but a friendly department store baseball competition. They built three wooden towers and equipped them with electric light bulbs, equivalent to the light of 90,000 candles.

While this invention was revolutionary, the towers didn’t emit much light and while the teams played past sunset, it wasn’t as seamless as they would have hoped.

In fact, it would take another 50 years for professional baseball teams to play at night.

The 1900s

By the early 1900s, Irving Langmuir had improved upon Edison’s bulb, creating a tungsten-filament incandescent bulb, which was brighter and longer-lasting than Edison’s carbon-filament bulb.

In 1929, the National Football League incorporated floodlights into its games. As the sun set, 6,000 fans watched the Chicago Cardinals play the Providence Steam Rollers. However, even these improvements weren’t bright enough to fully illuminate the brown football, so they painted it white.

What jump-started the stadium lighting industry was actually the Great Depression. As the depression hit, Major League Baseball teams were struggling to make ends meet. One thing that made it harder was the fact that all of their games had to be played during the day, making it impossible for working people to attend them.

To save his team from bankruptcy, Kansas City Monarchs owner, J.L. Wilkerson, decided to start playing games at night so that more fans could attend. He lit the baseball diamond using six 50 foot tall floodlights with tungsten-filament incandescent bulbs. By doing this, he tripled the attendance at his games that season! Soon after, the rest of the Major League teams followed suit.

As of 2017, more than 80% of Major League Baseball games are played at night and under stadium lights, so we have come a long way since those three makeshift towers.

Do You Have A Stadium In Need of Lights?

At Southwest Industrial Electric, we offer a wide range of lighting services, so no matter what space you’re trying to light, whether it’s a stadium, a factory, a warehouse, or an office, we can help you. Visit our website to see past projects we’ve worked on, clients we’ve worked with, and other services we offer.

Give us a call at (323) 215-1273, to hear more about how we can be of assistance to your business.