) got electricity before the city did.' />

The Napier Borough Council had discussed the introduction of electricity in the late 1880s and early 1890s for street lighting as opposed to gas.

The Hawke's Bay Herald (now Hawke's Bay Today) had installed its own electricity system in 1888, and called on the council to inspect its system for application to street lighting.

An advantage over street gas lamps, said the Herald, was that electric "lamps could be lighted or extinguished at any time by merely turning a handle in the engine room, so saving the cost of sending men all around town to light and extinguish each lamp, as has to be done when gas is used".

Finally, the council tried to raise the funds in 1909 required for a scheme of electric lighting and tramways as part of a £134,250 (2018: $22.375 million) infrastructure loan it sought.


It was turned down by the government's State Advances Office, which offered only £35,000 (2018: $5.83m) instead for a sewerage scheme.

Napier was furious – Hastings had just been given a loan for an electrical power house for street lighting, so both the Herald and Napier Borough Council protested to the government about this.

A month later the loan was increased to half what the council wanted, so not satisfied it decided to call for tenders for the whole loan.

Prime Minister Joseph Ward was not impressed when he heard, and a telegram sent by him to Napier mayor John Vigor Brown said a tram system wasn't a necessity, as there were other priorities, and he believed it was a waste of ratepayers' money to service the loan for this purpose.

Despite the displeasure expressed by Joseph Ward, the council borrowed part of the money from the State Advances and rest from the AMP Society. From a depot in Faraday St, the trams and electric light would be powered.

When the borough councillors inspected the power house plant In July 1913, one councillor stated humorously that his colleagues stood there fascinated and rather in shock, as what they saw was "a glittering array of handles, switches, recorders, ammeters, upon a polished black slate front" (as pictured).

Apparently, the curious visitors were nervous of an untimely electrocution. They needn't have worried as the newspaper reported that "the ingenious monster, however, is harmless so long as the rules are observed".

Between 1915 and 1916, the council's Municipal Trams and Electricity Department generated power for 765 consumers, and by 1924 this had risen to 2600 consumers.

The changeover to alternating current (AC) from direct current (DC) started in 1921, and each house and building had to be rewired.

In 1935 after the trams had been discontinued, a name change was made from the Municipal Trams and Electricity Department to the Municipal Electricity Department (MED).

The council got into the business of retailing electric ranges (oven) in the 1930s, and used local electricians for the installations.

However, this arrangement - which consisted of a roster system for a fixed sum - had its difficulties.

The council apparently wasn't agreeable to paying more for difficult installations and eventually used its own staff to do the work.

To promote the electric ranges, interest-free terms were offered, and one year, free cooking of Christmas cakes was done, with the MED delivering the cake to the consumer.

A showroom was opened in the Market Reserve Building in town.

When the council also decided to assemble hot-water cylinders, this also – if you will excuse the pun – landed them in "hot water".

Local plumbers were not thrilled about electricians doing plumbing work, so the council employed a plumber.

For their morning tea break, the power house employees used an electric kettle when they finally received electricity in their building. However when this burned out, the council was so slow to replace it that the employees had to resort to heating a billy of hot water over a blacksmith's portable forge in the open.

The Faraday Centre at 2a Faraday St, Napier, had its beginnings in 1979 when some individuals discovered a Fullagar engine once used by the Municipal Electricity Department was destined for the scrap yard.

The group went about preserving this engine, and their interest spread to other items of technology, leading to the formation of a museum of technology society.

After being based at a couple of locations including a vineyard and at the bottom of Milton Rd, they moved to Faraday St and after a merger with the Hawke's Bay Cultural Trust, the museum of technology was renamed the Faraday Centre in 1995.

Today the collection is owned by the Hawke's Bay Museum's Trust and operated by the Napier City Council by using volunteers.

To my shame, I only visited the Faraday Centre late last year, when I was shown around by former Napier mayor Dave Prebensen.

The centre is a wonderful and interactive display of technology through the ages, and I thoroughly recommend a visit if you have never been.

An excellent way, I think, to give your children or grandchildren a break from electronic devices to see how technology has evolved.

• Faraday Centre opening hours are Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9am to 1pm, and Saturdays, 9am to 11.30am. Adults $9 and children under 15 $2.50.

• Michael Fowler (mfhistory@gmail.com) is an EIT Accounting lecturer, and in his spare time a recorder of Hawke's Bay's history.