The baseball franchise that we know today as the Cincinnati Reds was founded in 1881. More than 50 years later, on 24 May 1935, the Cincinnati Reds beat the visiting Philadelphia Phillies. More than 20,000 fans watched that first Major League Baseball night game.
At 8:30 p.m., President Franklin D. Roosevelt threw a ceremonial switch at the White House in Washington, and the lights went on in Cincinnati.
Several papers reported that there was an excitement in the air akin to an All-Star Game, itself a recent invention in 1933. Ballpark usher Ralph Ploews recalled in a later article that the audience was mesmerized: “People were in utter joy. They gasped.”
The country was in the grip of the Great Depression. Reds president Larry MacPhail proposed night ball “as a way of keeping major league baseball in the Queen City.” So the team erected eight light standards, containing 632 individual lights, at Crosley Field.
Three years later, the Brooklyn Dodgers became the second team to install lights.
Night baseball was not new but it had been limited to the minor leagues. On 02 May 1930, the first minor league baseball night game took place in Des Moines, Iowa.
The game drew 12,000 people at a time when Des Moines was averaging just 600 fans per game. Evening games soon became popular in the minors: As minor league ball clubs were routinely folding in the midst of the Great Depression, adaptable owners found the innovation a key to staying in business. The major leagues, though, took five years to catch up to their small-town counterparts.
Wrigley Field, on Chicago’s North Side–the second oldest major league park after Boston’s Fenway–was the last of the parks to begin hosting night games. Wrigley’s tradition of hosting only day games held for 74 seasons until August 8, 1988, when the Cubs hosted the Philadelphia Phillies.
By 1925, half the homes in the U.S. had electric power. Electricity was notably absent in rural areas, which lead President Franklin D. Roosevelt to create the Rural Electrification Administration. In 1935.