First Caves with Electric Light

The History of Electric Illumination of Caves

A cave visit using torches at CaveYordas Cave.
From William Westall (1818): Views of the caves near Ingleton, Gordale Scar and Malham Cove, published by John Murray.
a remains of the first electric light at ShowcaveCharlottenhöhle, Germany. Wires and isolators.

A historic step in the development of modern show caves is the electric light. The perception of caves with electric light is so much different than with any other kind of light source. The constant and bright light allows the visitor to see all of the cave without flickering reflections and mysterious moving shadows.

On one side some people regret the loss of mysticism, of romantic cave visits of the 18th century with candles and torches. On the other hand those visits destroyed the cave with the grime and dirt those lights produced, and the people didn't even see the cave they visited, as most of it remained dark.

The development of the electric light allowed a constant, pollution free and bright illumination of the caves. For the first time the visitors were able to concentrate on the beauty of the cave and its formations without distraction.

This is a list of caves which were lighted in the 19th century. It is not complete, but it should at least list the most important caves of this time.

Date Cave Location Explanation
1880 ShowcaveChifley Cave RegionJenolan Caves, Australia. Early experiments with electric light in caves were carried out by Lieutenant Edward Cracknel. Permanent electric light was installed at Jenolan seven years later, but not in this cave.
26-JUL-1881 ShowcaveSloupsko-Šošùvské Jeskyně Czech Republic First cave in the world with electric arc light. This light did not use light bulbs, but electric arcs between coal electrodes, which were burning down and had to be replaced after some time.
SEP-1881 ShowcaveLuray Caverns U.S.A. 13 arc lights installed powered by an engine driven generator.
1883 ShowcaveKraushöhle Austria First cave in the world with electric light bulbs as we know them today. But the light was abandoned after only seven years and the cave is today visited with carbide lamps.
1884 ShowcavePostojnska Jama Solvenia Second cave in the world with electric light.
1884 ShowcaveOlgahöhle Germany Another second. Unfortunately we do not know the exact day. At least this is the first electric light in Germany.
1886 ShowcaveDunbar Cave U.S.A. Lit by electric generator
1887 ShowcaveDobšinská L'adová Jaskyna Slovak Republic First cave in Hungary(!) with electric light, but today it belongs to the Slovak Republic. They started to use Bunsen's burners in 1882.
1887 ShowcaveImperial Cave RegionJenolan Caves, Australia First permanent electric lighting at Jenolan. Current was at first supplied by a steam-driven dynamo in the Grand Archway.
1887 ShowcaveFantastic Caverns Springfield, Missouri, U.S.A. First wired for electricity in 1887, for the first 25 years a steam engine was used and then a delco-light replaced the steam engine.
1889 ShowcaveGrand Caverns Virgina, U.S.A.
1890 ShowcaveHermannshöhle Germany
1890 ShowcaveDechenhöhle Germany An early show cave with light installed in 1868 using candles, since 1871 gas, and finally since 1890 electric light. Not the first with electric light but probably the cave with the longest period of continual artificial light system since at least 1871.
1891 ShowcaveGussmannhöhle Germany First electric lighting was stopped after a few weeks because of technical problems. The next time electric light was installed, was in 1922.
1892 ShowcaveBaumannshöhle Germany
1892 ShowcaveGrotta dei Dossi Italy Developed, electric light and opened to the public, it was the first cave with electric light in Italy.
1893 ShowcaveCharlottenhöhle Germany A remains of this first light, isolator of glass with copper wires can still be seen.
1894 ShowcaveLucas Cave RegionJenolan Caves, Australia More caves electrified at Jenolan.
16-SEP-1895 ShowcaveGlenwood Caverns Fairy Caves, Colorado, USA The Fairy Cave Company constructed pathways, installed electric light and built an artificial tunnel into the cave.
1896 ShowcaveBelianska Jaskyna Slovak Republic
1899 ShowcaveErdmannshöhle Germany