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1909 Hudson-Fulton Celebration Illuminations

One hundred years ago the Brooklyn Museum participated in the Hudson-Fulton Celebration, a city-wide event organized by New York State. The 1909 Hudson-Fulton Celebration honored two significant historical moments—the centennial of Robert Fulton’s North River Steamboat; and the 300th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s entry into New York Harbor, laying the foundation for Dutch colonization in New York.

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View of the Brooklyn Museum’s Eastern Parkway façade, showing the museum lit up for Hudson Fulton Centennial, 1909. B/w copy negative, 5 x 7in (12.7 x 17.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Museum building. (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, S06_BEEi014.jpg)

The 1909 Hudson-Fulton Celebration illuminated New York City in hundreds of thousands of electric lights. This idea can’t quite have the same impact as it did one hundred years ago. In 2009, events such as Earth Hour are celebrated to turn off electric lights and lessen our impact on global warming. However, to understand how the Illuminations were perceived in 1909, it may help to consider that electric lighting was slowly making its way into residential homes, and at that point in time only three out of every ten homes in New York City had electricity. This 1909 advertisement for home electricity highlights the benefits of bringing electric light into homes.

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Advertisement for Edison Electric Illuminating Company of Brooklyn, at the time of the Hudson-Fulton Celebration. Printed in the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences Bulletin, Volume 3, no. 16, December 25, 1909.

The 1909 Hudson-Fulton Celebration Illuminations throughout the city were unprecedented, “the result was an electrical display of great variety and wonderful beauty which excited the admiration of everyone and make a spectacle which had never been presented in New York before on so grand a scale.” The Brooklyn Museum participated in the celebrations by covering the building in 7,200 lights as seen in the first photograph of this post.

In addition to the Illuminations, the 1909 Hudson-Fulton Celebration included art exhibitions, concerts, street and water parades, attracting visitors from all over the world and the Museum Libraries hold many published historical resources on the Hudson-Fulton Celebration.  2009 also marks the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s arrival, and a huge range of Dutch themed events scheduled throughout the year can be found through the NY400 website.