Necrology of Toledo's Woodlawn Cemetery
William E. Richards
William Edgar Richards was an electrical engineer from Toledo. He had the honor of designing the lighting for the Statue of Liberty. Richards was born around the year 1863 and in 1891 he came to Toledo from Iowa. Soon after his arrival he found work with the Toledo Consolidated Street Car Company. He stayed through several reorganizations of the firm which eventually became known as the Toledo Edison Company. Richards stayed with the company until his death.("Power Company Official, Stricken at Desk, Dies," Toledo Times, 13 August 1931).
Richards became nationally known for the advances he made in electrical transmissions. These included the use of underground cables."Toledo Man Provided Light for Stateu of Liberty, Newly Released Letters Detail Role of Engineer." Richards installed a 23,000 volt system of underground cables in Toledo. At the time, only one other city in the nation possessed a system like it.("Power Company Official.") In 1916, W.E. Richards success attracted the attention of those who were working on a plan to light the Statue of Liberty. Public contributions had raised the money to fund the project and Richards was asked to review the lighting plans.
Richards made several suggestions including running a half mile of cable under upper New York Bay to Bedloe (Liberty) Island. He advised putting clusters of 15 to 20 spotlights along the eleven points of the statue's base. Finally, Richards wanted to light the torch with a set of flashing lamps. The power would be provided by a cable run up to the torch.
Richards soon found himself on leave from Toledo Edison and in charge of the project. It was the middle of October at the time and the lighting ceremony was set for December 2, 1916. The following two months were full of obstacles for Richards. The official government engineer called his plans the "worst set of plans ever submitted to the government."
Nothing was changed and it appeared Richards would finish the project. Just then, the cable manufacturing company told him it would take five months to complete his order. They told him if they produced no orders but his it could be done in 10 days. Richards appealed for the government, the media, and the electrical industry to pressure the company. The cable manufacturer gave in to the pressure. The company provided the wire in only four days rather than the ten days it said it would take. The project was finished two days ahead of schedule. On December 2, 1916, President Wilson pushed the button to start the procedure and the Statue of Liberty was bathed in light.
For his efforts, W.E. Richards received a gold medal from the City of New York. He then returned to Toledo and continued to work for Toledo Edison. He was dictating to his stenographer when he died on August 12, 1931.(Ibid).
William E. Richards's grave
(Photography of Woodlawn Cemetery by Josef Schneider.)