“Folks felt traveling underground was like being too close to the Devil—you were taking a great risk in God’s eyes using the ‘subway’.” (Electricity & 1889

I love this illustration! It’s original caption read “The Unrestrained Demon!” And it is a telling depiction of the way the public viewed the idea of the burgeoning use of that frightening invention—electricity and its infiltration into the “modern” lives of urbanites during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

As with ALL changes to the ways we live, the idea of electricity, especially in situations where exposed wires hung precariously about, was frightening and to say it had its “critics” is an understatement. The illustration first appeared on the cover of Judge magazine in October of 1889. When I was researching it, I came across a brief Reddit discussion that is priceless. I include it below. 💡⚡️💀


“The Unrestrained Demon!” This illustration—while maybe silly to us today, in 2018–was in response to the death of linesman John Feeks in New York in 1889. The illustration appeared on the cover of Judge magazine on October 26, 1889 (Bettmann/CORBI). You can purchase an affordable print here… https://www.magnoliabox.com/products/an-unrestrained-demon-illustration-be052519

I first saw the illustration on a PBS documentary (streaming now on Netflix) called “American Experiance: A Race Underground”, which tells the story of the patented “Sprague electric motor” and how it changed the face of public streetcar transportation in Boston, Massachusetts and then the world.


Frank Sprague, ca. Early 1900s (Public Domain).

“Frank Sprague, largely forgotten today, invented the first and best electric railway motor (According to his former boss, Thomas Eddison, it was the “best motor” out there. Eddison later bought the patent from Sprague and had “Eddison” replace “Sprague” on the parts themselves). It was the invention and successful use of Sprague’s motor in Boston that ‘made people rethink how their city could look and function…and the profits were soon rolling in for the West End Street Railway Company. In just five years more than 80% of the system was electrified and overhead, wires lined the city streets…’”

American Experiance: A Race Underground (PBS)


In this famous photo of New York’s “Blizzard of ’88”, you can see the way the electrical wires were strung about the city streets like the lair of an insidious trolley-sized arachnid!(Photograph: Museum of the City of New York)


Ducktor_Beak• May 19, 2018, 7:44 AM
Is this electricity? Did someone dislike lightbulbs? What is being pro/demoted here?

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