Throughout the world there are many special lighting displays used to illuminate well known features and structures. The Niagara Falls lights are one of the most spectacular such displays as the water – and small ice crystals in the cold winter air – reflect and refract the light to create what might just be the most spectacular lightings of a natural wonder anywhere in the world.
Recently the Niagara Falls Illumination Board, which was established in 1925, installed new LED lights to accomplish the feat of lighting the falls. The results were/are amazing and I’ll expound on that in a bit, but for now, let’s start at the beginning and take a little trip through the evolution of the lighting project.
The first illumination of the falls occurred in honor of a visit by The Prince of Wales on September 14, 1860. There were about 200 lights installed along the banks, roads, and under the falls for the celebration. The lights were called Bengal lights and were the type used on ocean going vessels for purposes of signaling warning and help alerts. These lights were powered by chemical reactions that created “flares” of extremely brilliant light. They were also known as “blue lights” due to the bluish tint created by the mixture of sulfur, orpiment, and saltpeter (The Bengal moniker hung on these lights was likely due to the fact that Bengal is the chief source of saltpeter). The high intensity brilliance of these lights is obtained by adding magnesium to the mix. Lights such as this can still be found on ships today, which just goes to show that, sometimes, old, low tech can match modern hi tech performance. One of the best reasons to keep this form of lighting on the ships is due to the fact that no electricity is needed to operate them. In the early part of the 19th century, it was discovered that potassium chlorate could be introduced to the mix to produce colored light, although this form of colored lighting was not used in the illumination of the falls.
Electric lights were first used in 1879 and had an illumination power of 32,000 candles, which is a very minute fraction of the intensity used today. The power was generated by a 36 horsepower generating station which powered 16 open arc lamps, each producing 2,000 candlepower. In May of 1892 a single 4,000 candlepower light was used to produce the first colored lighting of the falls. Colored films of gelatin were used to create the colors. Other colored lights were introduced in 1907 when colored gelatin films were added to a system of 36 lights near the base of the falls. The system was designed by General Electric Company of Schenectady. Workers were paid $3 per night to change gel screens when a foreman shouted out signals for change. As colors shone on the face of the falls, they would fade to white as a new colored gel was used to cover the spotlight.
In 1895, forty arc lamps which were individually rated at 2,000 candlepower were placed in the gorge in such an arrangement which was purported to make the falls appear as bright as in daylight. Each light contained three globes, which were colored red, white and blue and worked automatically to change the colors. In 1907, a display that operated for only a few weeks was installed. That system used 36 projectors which generated one billion, one hundred fifteen million (1,115,000,00) candlepower. For more than a decade following that, numerous attempts were made to raise financing for permanent lighting. Those efforts were stymied by the first World War. However, in 1925, the Niagara Falls Illumination Board was established in order to finance, operate and maintain a permanent lighting system.
In 1925, the board Installed 24, 36-inch carbon searchlights with a total output of one billion, three hundred and twenty million (1,320,000,000) candlepower. Since that time, the lights have been used nearly every night, with the exception of times during WWII to conserve power, and during other times when power generating systems could not keep up with electrical requirements caused by the construction boom. In 1950, the board was finally able to guarantee enough power to operate the lights on a regular basis.
In 1997 and 1998, new xenon lights replaced the existing lights to illuminate the falls in an intense rainbow of colors. At 30 inches in diameter, each light produced in excess of 390 million peak beam candlepower with a brilliance of 250 million candlepower. That combination of the twenty-one lights doubled the intensity of the previous lights without doubling the power needs. Math says that the total brilliance of those comes to an astounding five billion two hundred fifty million (that’s, 5,250,000,000) candlepower! Even more astounding is the recent installation of LED lighting which is said to have increased the total light output by a factor of 14, which would be seventy-three billion, five hundred million candlepower!! That number looks like this, 73,500,000,000! Even more incredible, that light is being produced at a rate of over 85% more efficiency than the previous lighting! YAY for LED technology!!
At Polar-Ray, we don’t have any lighting of the intensity mentioned here (sorry), but we do have those wonderful modern LED lights that can greatly reduce your energy consumption. We also have very good lighting intelligence and would be more than happy to help with your LED lighting projects. Call us at 303-494-5773 for expert help.