Mysterious Lights Of The North

push buttons on old light switch in washington DC

push buttons on old light switch in washington DCToday’s Photo Of The Week is a bit of a mystery, and we’re looking for help. Can you explain what this switch was designed to operate? Just the ceiling light (which would be, kind of, north of the person operating the switch)? Or does “N” stand for “no,” i.e., “off?” But if so, what’s with the NE?

Or was it part of the “heating plant?” Or perhaps it connected phone calls to different parts of the house? Or was it connected to a buzzer that summoned the maid?

We found the plate in the upper hall of a 1920s colonial in North Cleveland Park, and it appears to be original to the house that was built from plans by the DC-based Standard Homes Company. The writing that circles the “N” on the buttons on the left spells, “HART & HEGEMAN MFG CO.”

Any ideas?

2 thoughts on “Mysterious Lights Of The North

  • October 15, 2013 at 10:36 pm
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    P.S. – someone recently left a comment here (about the old light switches) that was accidentally deleted. In case you are still following this, could you please tell us again? Thanks! -Cati

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  • October 16, 2013 at 1:37 pm
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    Sure! The switches are for knob and tube wiring, which was popular until the early 1930’s. I’ve got two switches that look almost exactly like these in my 1923 home in central Virginia. In my home, the left switch turns on and off my porch light, and the right one powers my living room light. My switches both have the GE (General Electric) logo imprinted on them. It looks like the two switches in this picture were made by two different manufacturers, maybe Northern Electric and Hart & Hegeman Mfg. Co. I decided to leave the switch at the entryway to preserve at least a little bit of the original look of the home.

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