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Dr. Hugh Hicks

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mount vernon museum of incandescent lighting and Dr. Hugh Francis Hicks

This article has been written to pay my respects to the late Dr. Hugh F. Hicks and to clear up some confusion which exists between this website and the now defunct Mount Vernon Museum of Incandescent Light (Baltimore, MD.) that was operated by Dr. Hugh Hicks.

Most bulb collectors are aware of Dr. Hicks and his collection of antique light bulbs. Over the course of many decades, Dr. Hicks amassed a collection of antique and vintage light bulbs that was rumored to be near the 60,000 mark but likely the amount was far less than this popular estimate. The Hicks collection was home to a number of many important early light bulbs including original Edison prototype lamps. The collection was considered to be one of the best of its time, if not the best and most represented. I first heard of Dr. Hicks back in the early 1990s through Internet correspondence with other collectors. Many bulb collectors have made the pilgrimage to Baltimore and in the fall of 1999 I made the trip myself to meet Dr. Hicks and photograph his collection. I found Dr. Hicks to be a very warm and outgoing person and his passion for antique light bulbs was radiant. If there was anything that he loved more than collecting antique light bulbs, it was sharing his collection with museum visitors. My time spent at the museum was very memorable and I look back on it now with fond memories.

Dr. Hicks passed away in 2002 leaving behind his collection and many memories in the hearts of people who met him. An open house and small private reception was organized by family members following Dr. Hicks' passing in which the collection was on public display one final time. It was decided by family that the remaining collection be donated to the Baltimore Museum of Industry (BMI). An official announcement was released on 4.18.03 by the BMI confirming the fact. More recently, a newspaper article was printed on 1.1.04 stating the collection is now on public display at the BMI. Below is the obituary which circulated in many newspapers after his passing, cited from the Baltimore Sun Times, May 8th, 2002:

"Hugh Hicks , dentist who ran light bulb museum, dies
Collection considered one of biggest, best in world
By Jacques Kelly and Frederick N. Rasmussen Sun Staff May 8, 2002

Dr. Hugh Francis Hicks, the dentist whose Mount Vernon Place office was home to what is thought to be the world's foremost collection of electric light bulbs, died yesterday of a heart attack at St. Joseph Medical Center. The Roland Park resident was 79. His enthusiasm for glowing glass never exhausted, and through the years he amassed a collection that included a bulb from the original torch of the Statue of Liberty and headlamps from the Mercedes-Benz limousines of Nazi leaders Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler. Dr. Hicks regularly told visitors to his free, private museum that his was the only collection in the world containing an uninterrupted history of the light bulb, including 15 or 20 bulbs that Thomas Alva Edison probably held in his hands 122 years ago. "In terms of numbers, his may very well be the largest collection in the world, certainly the largest collection any of us knew," said Harold D. Wallace, a specialist with the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History. "He was the kind of guy who never met a light bulb he didn't like. "There are greedy collectors, but Hugh was always a generous collector who donated objects to us and lent them freely," Mr. Wallace said. Born in Baltimore and raised on Springlake Way in Homeland, he was the son of Dr. Hugh T. Hicks, a periodontist, and a descendant of Gov. Thomas Holliday Hicks, Maryland governor from 1858 to 1862. A 1941 graduate of City College, Dr. Hicks earned his bachelor's degree from Columbia University in 1945. After graduating from the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, he joined his father's practice in the Medical Arts Building in 1951. Also a periodontist, he established his practice in a Mount Vernon Place townhouse in 1957 and never fully retired. At his death, he maintained an office and waiting room that overlooked the John Eager Howard statue and Stafford Apartments. "I don't think there is a more beautiful place in the world to work," he told a reporter earlier this year. An obsession begins "My grandmother always told the story that he didn't want to play with toys when he was a baby, so she put a light bulb in his crib and he began playing with it," said a daughter, Frances Hicks Apollony of Homeland. That was the beginning of a lifelong obsession with light bulbs that grew into a world-renowned collection of 75,000 bulbs. About 10,000 bulbs were labeled and on display in the basement museum of his dentist office at 717 Washington Place. A subcategory of the collection includes lighting fixtures, from sconces to street lights and chandeliers. The museum opened in 1964 and drew more than 6,000 visitors annually. They benefited from hands-on tours from Dr. Hicks. Scholars, other collectors and fans from all over the world were among the visitors. "They all come here to gasp in wonderment," said Dr. Hicks in a 1989 Evening Sun interview. Like all collectors, Dr. Hicks had plenty of stories to accompany his acquisitions. In a Paris subway tunnel in 1964, he noticed a series of 1920s-era tungsten bulbs along the wall. He didn't know that the bulbs were wired in series - when one was removed, they all went out. So when he surreptitiously unscrewed and removed a bulb, the tunnel suddenly went dark. As a chorus of passengers screamed and howled in the background, he nervously tried to replace the bulb. "But I couldn't get it back. So, you know me, I grabbed two more and took off," he said in the Evening Sun interview. Pieces of the past The largest bulb in his collection dates to 1926, is 4 feet high and requires 50,000 watts of electricity to glow. The most diminutive is a pin light that was produced in the 1960s and used in missile wiring. It is only visible under a microscope. Other historical pieces include a 3-foot-long tubular bulb used during the 1930s to illuminate the ill-fated French liner Normandie; a dashboard light from the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945; an Edison bulb from the now-demolished Vanderbilt mansion in New York; and a 15-watt fluorescent bulb that illuminated the table on which the Japanese signed the surrender in World War II aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay in 1945. "This is the only museum in the world that covers the whole history of the light bulb. And when we can teach the public, especially our schoolchildren, about the most important industrial development - the light bulb - then we are fulfilling our mission," Dr. Hicks told The Sun in 1999. "Without the light bulb there would be no space travel, no air travel, no television and no electronic video games," he said. Active in community He was recalled as a cheerful, happy man, who enjoyed opera and served on the Baltimore Opera Company's board. He also had a deep appreciation of Baltimore's history and traditions. He opened his museum for First Thursday openings along Charles Street and for the annual December holiday lighting of the Washington Monument. "He loved giving personally guided tours of his museum to schoolchildren. I don't think we'll ever be able to find someone to do what he did," said his daughter. "When he celebrated his 75th birthday, Westinghouse made him a 75,000-watt light bulb to commemorate his birthday," said Mrs. Apollony. "He was one of the finest friends this city has ever had," said Clarisse B. Mechanic, a friend who owns the Mechanic Theatre downtown. "I can't go past his Mount Vernon Place office and not think of him. He was one of Baltimore's real treasures." Dr. Hicks may have enjoyed collecting and displaying artifacts that defined the history of electric illumination, but at home he enjoyed turning on the gaslights. "The gaslights in his Roland Park home still worked, and he loved using them for parties," said Mrs. Apollony. He was married in 1950 to Mary Louise Amos, who died in 1990. A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. David's Episcopal Church, 4700 Roland Ave. Dr. Hicks is survived by another daughter, Louise Hicks Smith of Winchester, Va.; a sister, Lois Hicks Burkley of Baltimore; and four grandchildren.
Sun researcher Sarah E. Gehring contributed to this article."

The General Electric Monogram had this to say about Dr. Hicks in the summer of 1988:


Hugh Hicks, a dentist from Baltimore, would rather look at light bulbs than teeth. There's no way to be sure, but in his basement he probably has the largest private collection of incandescent bulbs in the United States - if not the world! Ever since he was a child, Hicks has been collecting bulbs and today he's got more than 60,000 of them - dating as far back as Thomas Edison's 1880 prototypes. He says his bulbs span the entire history of incandescence. He even has a porch bulb from the Fifth Avenue mansion of Cornelius Vanderbilt as well as one of the first bulbs ever screwed into the torch of the Statue of Liberty. "Even as a child," he says, "I always had a box of light bulbs." And that passion has now grown into his very own Museum of Incandescent Lighting - which even includes special exhibits such as Hicks' "Filaments Through History." One of his prize possessions is a 50,000 watt searchlight from La Guardia Field in New York (today La Guardia International Airport). That searchlight, he boasts, was the world's largest lamp - with plenty of tungsten in the filament to supply 6,000 100watt bulbs. Perhaps only one other man ever came close to matching Hicks' bounty of bulbs, and that was Bill Hammer, who had worked with Edison . But Hicks points out that, although he isn't sure whether he believes in reincarnation, Hammer died about the time he was born."

At the beginning of this article I mentioned some confusion that exists between this website and Dr. Hicks and the Mount Vernon Museum. Many people (not associated with antique light bulb collecting) have emailed me directly in the past under the false assumption that this site,, is operated by or is the same as the Mount Vernon Museum. This is not the case, I'm a private collector with an online museum with no affiliation to the Mount Vernon Museum.

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