Lighting up Niagara Falls at night goes back to before the Civil War, when simple chemical flares that burned blue were used in honor of visiting English royalty.
In 1907, Walter D’Arcy Ryan, a General Electric lighting engineer used 44 searchlights with gelatin filters (similar to “gels” used in film production today) to project various colors onto the falls.
It was so successful that Ryan was named to head GE’s Illuminating Engineering Laboratory in Schenectady, considered “the world’s first institution for research into lighting.”
In 1908 Ryan was the first to illuminate an entire skyscraper, New York’s Singer Building and the following year he was in charge of lighting for the New York Hudson-Fulton Celebration. His illuminations of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915 and the Chicago World’s Fair (1933-34) were considered advanced for the time.
Today, the falls at Niagara Falls State Park take on a rainbow of colors thanks to a high-tech LED lighting system that was installed in 2016 and has the illumination power equivalent to 66.6 million standard 110-watt lightbulbs.
Here is a short documentary film about the lighting of Niagara Falls and you can learn more about the history of lighting the falls in this blog post by Angela Berti, Marketing and Public Affairs Coordinator of NYS Parks’ Niagara Region.
Photo of Niagara Falls at night courtesy NYS Parks.