Why isn’t U.S. electrical system underground?

Part 2 of 2: Innovation's ugly effect on streetscape

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(This is Part 2 of a two-part series. Read Part 1, "Inventors scramble to electrify America.") The American landscape was forever changed by the arrival of electricity in the late 1890s. What's surprising, though, is how little it's changed since. To a time traveler from a century ago, our cars, planes and Blackberries would surely border on the miraculous, but the old wooden power poles that march down our streets would look perfectly familiar. As we noted last time, America's electrical distribution system grew out of an earlier technology -- the telegraph, whose infrastructure was already largely in place by the 1860s. And while rural areas might have just one set of telegraph lines paralleling the local railroad track, by the century's end major cities were already bristling with telegraph poles carrying stacks of 10 or more crossarms and scores of cables. Given the rush to electrify urban areas, the basic infrastructure of the telegraph network was borrowed for electric...