In the olden days, Thai people relied on torches, candles and lamps for light. Some would use dried weeds as wicks in their lamps. Well - to - do people would use kerosene lamps, which were imported lanterns fixed with handles and covered with glass shades. They were commonly known as "fencelamps" because originally they were hung on fences and lit on special occasions. Another type of lamp was called the "maeng - da la kind of bug) lamp" due to its round shape and bug-like embossed surface. These lamps were attached with a container to be filled with kerosene.Thailand first used kerosene in 1874 and the use of benzenestarted in 1904 when automobiles started to be imported. In kerosene lamps, there was a small tube attached to the kerosene container and at the end of the tube were tiny holes known as greasing nipples. Light would be emitted as the kerosene slid through the tube on to these tiny holes. There were also lamps that functioned by winding a spring and rotating blades that created a breeze to make the flame steady and prevent any smoke. Storm lamps were also widely used.
Electricity was introduced to Thailand by Chao Phraya Surasakdimontri (Charoen Sangxuto). When he held the title of Chamuen Waiworanat, he went to France with Chao Phraya Phaskorawong to serve as the Chargé d'Affaires in Paris. While he was there he was so impressed with how the French capital was illuminated with electric light that, upon his return to Thailand, he considered introducing electricity to the public. To make his idea become a reality, he had to start with the Grand Palace and the residences of noblemen. So he communicated his idea to King Chulalongkorn but failed to convince the King that electricity could be used as a source of light. So it was that Chamuen Waiworanat realized how important it was to find a way to persuade those who had never experienced it of the benefits of electricity.
He asked Krom Muen Deva Vongsevaropakorn to make a request to the Queen to purchase some land that he had inherited from his father. The Queen agreed to pay 14, 400.00 baht for the land which was in Tambon Wat Banglamud, Bang Or Sub-district. Following that, in 1884, Mayola, an Italian who served as a trainer of military personnel, was commissioned to buy machines and electrical equipment from England. He obtained two electric generators that were to be installed underground and cable that was to run from the Cavalry Barracks (now the Ministry of Defence) to the Grand Palace and be decorated with electric lamps. Electricity was thus launched in Thailand on September 20, 1884 on the birthday of King Chulalongkorn. It became popular at the royal court, in residences of members of the royal family and in the houses of well-to-do people. The King, himself, paid Chamuen Waiworanat for the installation of electricity. Subsequently, he had a plan to install a plant to supply electricity to the people of Bangkok but this was abandoned because of the military mission to subdue Haw rebels in the North. However, electricity became widely used in Bangkok.
Apart from providing light, electricity was also used to generate power, as can seen by the establishment of a tramway company to ease communication in Bangkok and the suburbs.
Though the government paid lower electricity bills than people in general, it was very important to be careful in the use of electricity for public places. Streetlamps were not available on streets or roads that were less frequented. Some streets and roads were installed with lights at distant intervals because local taxes had not been introduced yet. King Chulalongkorn paid much attention to the installation of streetlamps. He realised that electricity was new to his people and they did not really know how to use it; some did not even know how to turn it on or off. Sometimes they left lights on all night thus squandering the King's resources. Therefore, priority in the installation of streetlamps depended on the number of people who used the streets.
Concerning the installation of electricity, the king wrote to Chao Phraya Worapongpipat, who was then Chao Muen Samoe Chai. Part of his letter reads; "There should be electricity from Taves Bridge to Kim Seng Lee Bridge, from Duang Tawan to Benjamas Roads, on Duang Duen Nok Road and Doa Chung Road. As for Koh Suea and Plai Pruetimat Roads, we should wait a while until the roads are more frequented. Take the street in front of Somanas Temple as an example. It did not have streetlamps and had to wait for half a year before electricity was installed."
Another letter shows the King's concern about electricity bills and use: "I will have to reconsider the use of electricity later. Now I am being careful to make sure that what I am doing will not be wasted. The Thai people want to use electricity even though they do not know how to switch it on or off and if electricity bills are computed by unit cost, this will be a total disaster. Although some people have been assigned to switch it on and off, in fact they are useless and do not fulfil their assignment, leaving the lights on at all time and the roads always illuminated. What is worse is that the lights in all the houses are also left on. This is due to the fact that there are no separate switches. A central switch is needed to turn on or off all the lights. If we want to make those house owners feel guilty about what has been wasted, we may have to levy a fixed rate for the daily use of electricity in each house. Then, it will depend on how much electricity they use and those who use less will have more money left. Those who use more will have to pay for it themselves and the government will send them the bill. But what is important is that lights have to be lit in places which have formerly been dark so that people can appropriately use them. As for roads and buildings, lights have to be on for twelve hours and we will have to consider how many electrical units are needed. If the electricity cost is to run over twelve hours, there will be a need to figure how much they have to pay the government. If these kinds of measures are observed, the problems relating to the waste of electricity can be solved. The disaster from people failing to turn off the lights has caused the country and the two departments responsible for sanitation to lose a lot of money unnecessarily."
Electricity bills for the use of electricity on the roads and in the palace must have drained a lot of money from the King's private fund. The use of electricity increased tremendously after the construction of Dusit Gardens, which comprised Dusit Palace and the Anantasmakom Throne hall, as well as following the establishment of the waterworks project. It was too costly to buy electricity from the company and the company itself was unable to provide an adequate supply. For this reason, the Metropolitan Ministry asked permission from the King to operate the production of electricity.
Initially, two organisations were responsible for producing electricity: the Bangkok Electricity Authority and the Royal Samsen Electricity Division.
In 1887, the government granted the concession for a tramway operation to John Loftus and A. Du Plassir De Richelieu. As electricity was not yet available, the trams had to be drawn by horses. The operation went bankrupt after a short while. In 1892, the business was transferred to a Danish company. The company started to offer an electric tram service in 1894 while most countries in Europe still did not have trams run by electricity. It was almost ten years after this that Tokyo started to have one. In 1900, the Danish company sold its business to the Bangkok Electricity Light Syndicate Company but the operation did not prosper as had been expected. For this reason, the business was transferred to the Siam Electricity Limited Company, run by a Dane, named Og Wesdeholm. Its office was located in the area of Wat Leab. In 1939, the name was changed to the Thai Electricity Corporation Company Limited. In 1950, the concession expired and the government subsequently took over the operation and had the name of the company changed to the Bangkok Electricity Authority under the control of the Ministry of the Interior. It was responsible for producing and selling electricity to people living in the south of Klong Bangkok Noi and Klong Banglumpoo.
The Royal Samsen Electricity Division was originally named the Samsen Electricity Division. It was established on King Chulalongkorn's initiative. The King realised the significance of electric power and his farsightedness enabled him to foresee the expansion of Bangkok to the northern area. He thus had Dusit Palace built as his royal residence and the Anantasamakom Throne Hall constructed as a royal audience hall. In order to acquire cheap electricity and to make it convenient to operate the pumps of Waterworks Authority, the King had an electricity plant built under the supervision of Chao Phraya Yommarat (Pun Sukhum), the Metropolitan Minister and Director General of the Department of Sanitation. The plant produced electricity for sale to the public. It was managed as all businesses are or in the same way as government enterprises nowadays.
Chao Phraya Yommarat arranged a loan of 1,000,000 Baht from the Ministry of Finance at an interest rate of 4 percent a year. The loan was spent in constructing the plant and operating the business. F. B. Shaw, an English electrical engineer was transferred from the Department of Public Works to oversee the construction, Construction companies submitted bids for the plant's construction and Allgameine Elektricitats Gesellsehaft, known today as AEG, from Germany won the bid. The construction was completed on December 20, 1913. The Royal Electricity Division started its generator and produced electricity for sale to the public at the beginning of 1914. Its supply areas were north of Klong Bangkok Noi and Klong Banglumpoo.
The government, under the premiership of Field Marshal thanom kittika-chon, merged the two organisations to form the Metropolitan Electricity Authority.