Two landmark electrical systems to be designated IEEE milestones
Gil Cooke

The purpose of this article is get readers to mark their calendars to attend and celebrate two IEEE milestones this fall in Boston. The first milestone will be awarded to Boston's ancient telegraphic fire alarm system (yes- those little red boxes located on street corners) which went into service in 1852. The other milestone will be awarded to the electric traction power system that has transported passengers of the "T" for over 100 years.

In order to raise awareness of the contributions of electrical and electronic engineers to society, the Boston Section of the IEEE invites all members and non-members, to attend the celebrations described below.

Boston Electric Fire Alarm System - 1852

The milestone will be dedicated October 1, 2004, to commemorate the Boston Electric Fire Alarm System. A plaque will be presented to Boston Fire Commissioner Paul Christian by the President of the IEEE, Dr. Arthur Winston. The plaque inscription reads:

On 28 April 1852 the first municipal electric fire alarm system using call boxes with automatic signaling to indicate the location of a fire was placed into operation in Boston. Invented by William Channing and Moses Farmer, this system was highly successful in reducing property loss and deaths due to fire and was subsequently adopted throughout the United States and in Canada.

This event begins at 8:30 am and will be held at Florian Banquet Hall in Dorchester. After a welcoming remark by Mayor Menino, there will be presentations on the history, innovations, and significance of Boston's fire alarm system. A buffet lunch will be served. The milestone will conclude with a tour of the fire alarm control center on The Fenway.

The Power System of Boston's Rapid Transit - 1889

The second milestone will take place a month later in November. This will be especially interesting to those interested in the history of electric traction and mass transit systems. This event will commemorate the landmark electrical power system that has moved the "T" since 1889.

The milestone dedication will be held at the new Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, November 10, 2004. The plaque will be presented to MBTA General Manager Michael Mulhern. The significance of this landmark system is clearly stated on the plaque:

Boston was the first city to build electric traction for a large-scale rapid transit system. The engineering challenge to design and construct safe, economically viable, and reliable electric power for Boston's rapid transit was met by the West End Street Railway Company, beginning in 1889. The company's pioneering efforts provided an important impetus to the adoption of mass transit systems nationwide.

The ceremony will begin at 8:30 am and continue past 2 pm. Following welcoming remarks by Governor Romney and the Secretary of Transportation, there will be presentations by power historian Thomas Hughes and Boston transit historian and author, Bradley Clarke. Over 200 people are expected to attend, bringing together transit officials, historical societies, railway fans, scholars in science and technology, construction and manufacturing interests, as well as power engineers of all ages. The PES and LM chapters are expected to cosponsor this event. After a buffet lunch, there will be busses to transport attendees to MBTA facilities for escorted tours.

IEEE History Center

The IEEE milestone program was developed by the IEEE History Center which is associated with Rutgers University in New Jersey. Its mission is to preserve, research, and promote the vast legacy of electrical and electronic engineers. More information is available from their website:

For information contact Gil Cooke at For those planning to attend either event, please contact Robert Alongi at 781- 245-5405 or