Commemorative section takes historical look at energy industry

Part One: The roaring ’20s brings a new magazine

By Kathleen Davis, Associate Editor

May 13, 2002 — “Here it is, the first issue of Electric Light and Power,” the cover declared in January 1923. Volume 1, number 1 declared itself dedicated to the utility industry: “Serving only one class of readers, central station men, it will have no diversity of interests, no unrelated contents.”

They weren’t kidding. With that goal in mind, they began by looking at the present status of commission regulation of power service: “With the exception of the State of Delaware, all the states and the District of Columbia have laws more or less regulating the service of public utility corporations through railroad or public service commissions.” Oh, how little has changed.

The basic arguments of the power industry have been reflected in EL&P since its inception, although perhaps the details have become a bit more complicated. Nowadays, increased load is caused by Internet access and Web surfing, where as, in 1924, M. T. Crawford, Superintendent of Distribution for Puget Sound Power & Light Co., pointed to the increased use of the automobile (locating homes in rural areas) and the electric range (putting a strain on the existing system).

Here at EL&P, we’ve been struck by the dichotomy: the similarity of the basic argument, the strange difference of the details. As our industry struggles with the growing pains of deregulation, we’re suddenly facing the new concept of marketing ourselves to customers and partners. However, one quick glance at a back issue brings the realization that marketing and promotion of energy and utility companies can be traced back to its humble beginnings.

In May 2002, we’re concerned with the dark shadow of mark-to-market accounting, how Enron has changed the connotation. In May 1925, executives were seriously concerned with the use of the term “central station man,” as the phrase “central station” was known to the general public as referring to a police station, painting a negative portrait of the hard-working utility man.

Did we mention how little things have changed?

More information on EL&P’s 80th anniversary can be found in May’s commemorative issue at Kathleen Davis is an Associate Editor for Electric Light & Power Magazine, a PennWell publication. She can be reached at

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