July 17 2020 06:00 AM

Nightingale developed fixtures that could be hidden in plain sight, a trait of a very skilled magician.

rangizzz / Adobe Stock

All industries have a unique origin. The stories of these origins are usually quite interesting, and our landscape lighting industry is no exception. When looking back into our past, we can’t help but recognize several great American entrepreneurs who pioneered the landscape lighting industry.

The inventor of garden lighting

Frank B. Nightingale was born in New York on Dec. 26, 1885. At an early age he developed a passion for magic. When Frank was 16 years old, he began working the stage as “Nightingale the Mystifyer.” He would be known to many people as the “Magician of Light” as he was known to merge nature and lighting together.

Frank began his career working for General Electric in 1912. His career would take him from New York to Los Angeles. It was there he developed a love of the wilderness, even building a cabin in the Sierra Madre mountains. On his 47th birthday in 1932, he was discharged from GE. It was after this that he would begin manufacturing the first 120-volt garden lighting fixtures in his garage.

Nightingale developed fixtures that could be hidden in plain sight, a trait of a very skilled magician. Most would look like a standard piece that you would find in any garden. One was a bird house. It could be mounted on a pole and placed in the middle of a lawn area or flower bed. From the front view it looked like a normal bird house; however, an adjustable flood holder with a special moon light lens would pour light into the area below. He also developed a hanging bird house that could be hung from a tree to produce the same type of moon lighting effect.

Electrical receptacles to power these fixtures would be disguised as mushrooms or rocks. In 1934 his 98 Series of garden lighting fixtures only had seven featured products. It cost just six cents to get his product catalog titled “Fairyland Is Just Beyond the Windowsill.”

During that same year in an article featured in Electrical West magazine, Nightingale writes, “Garden lighting should not be thought of as a means of lighting up the backyard so that one may run out and pick a few sweet peas or to shoo the neighbor’s cat off the back fence. The garden should be considered as a part of the home, an extended living room filled with interesting lights, shadows and personalities of living, friendly, growing things. It should be lighted every evening in the same manner as the living room, for atmosphere, for enjoyment. Picture windows over the garden should never have curtains drawn.”

In 1936, the California Pacific International Exposition in San Diego hosted “The Palace of Electricity.”

This expo featured the latest modern appliances as well as some of Thomas Edison’s inventions. Nightingale’s “Attractive Garden Lighting” exhibit would be one of the first of its kind to appear at such a renowned show.

Nightingale also developed some of the first control methods for outdoor lighting. Using mechanical timers, he was able to control different zones to create a magical effect. He also incorporated music through loudspeakers. At his home he would often play Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” with lighting effects to create an enchanting evening for his guests.

Nightingale wrote many other articles that would appear in newspapers and trade publications. He also wrote two books on lighting. He published his first book in 1958 simply titled “Garden Lighting.” In 1962 he published “Lighting as an Art.” Several years ago, two talented contractors, Mark Carlson and Michael Gambino, republished Nightingale’s original “Garden Lighting” book. I recently purchased a copy and highly recommend it!

To learn more about Frank Nightingale, visit www.frankbnightingale.com. I wish to thank my two lighting industry colleagues, Mark Carlson and Mike Gambino, for allowing me to reference their material to bring you this article. Stay tuned for part 2 of the article series coming in August when we will discuss the beginnings of the 12-volt lighting system. Until then, stay creative!

Kevin Smith is the national technical support and trainer at Brilliance LED LLC, Carefree, Arizona, and can be reached at kevin.smith@brillianceled.com.