EL&P celebrates its 80th anniversary

By Pam Boschee

We’re all settling into the new year, which holds its usual promises of hope and uncertainties. For Electric Light & Power, 2002 is a banner year-it marks our 80th year.

In 1922, the idea for Electric Light & Power led to its premier issue in January of 1923 with this mission statement: “It covers every phase of central station operation in the language of the business man.”

The first editorial commented, “Electric Light & Power is a magazine made for its readers, the Central Station executives and department heads of the United States, Canada, West Indies and Mexico. It is a paper devoted to the work of you men. It aims to be helpful and at the same time human and interesting.”

As we begin our 80th year, we intend to continue with our long tradition of providing energy business news you can rely on to make decisions.

Thumbing through our archived 1923 issues, I noted several changes in the industry that I thought you might also find interesting.

In 1923, the U.S. electric power industry was cited as having an investment of $5 billion with an annual income of $1 billion. In 1999, total operating revenue for IOUs totaled nearly $326 billion, including both diversified and non-diversified utility activities (EEI Financial Review, 1999).

There were then 24 million American homes with less than 10 million of those electrified. Many centrals stations had load factors of less than 40 percent.

Great emphasis was placed on increasing the consumption of electricity. The National Electric Light Association’s Commercial Section for its 1923 convention set several goals, including: $125 million of possible additional revenue from residential customers; $108 million additional revenue from existing small store customers; a $30,000 program for promoting the sale of electric ranges; and a $40,000 program for promoting the sale of electric vehicles.

This is in sharp contrast to the imbalance of demand and supply we’ve witnessed in just the last few years. Today, reserve capacity margins are often slim; a region’s adequacy of supply often teeters on what the jet stream delivers.

In other respects, some things haven’t changed. In June 1923, Martin J Insull, of the Middle West Utilities Co., Chicago, wrote: “How many of the customers of the industry have any idea that the rate they pay does not provide a profit as they know profit, but only enough to pay interest on the money invested to give them service?”

Haven’t we heard similar questions during our evolution toward deregulation? In fact, didn’t we hear this shouted recently from California?

Shareholder growth more than doubled from 1921 to 1922. Utilities tallied about $80 million from early investors in 1921; in 1922, the total was $175 million.

Milan R. Bump, of the Henry L. Doherty & Co., New York, wrote: “There are now more than 425,000 customer-stockholders who have been obtained during the past several years and the number is increasing so rapidly that it may be safely predicted that there will be 1,000,000 such shareholders within three years.”

I’d like to share with you another commemorative note related to Electric Light & Power. Many of you know Robert Smock, vice president and group publishing director of PennWell’s Global Energy Group. He marked his 30th year with PennWell, having joined Electric Light & Power in Boston as an associate editor in 1971.

Electric Light & Power has evolved with this industry over the decades and will continue to do so. You’ll see some changes to our magazine’s “look” in the near future. And in May, we’ll present our commemorative 80th anniversary issue.

I’d like to invite you to check your own archives; after all, some of the companies on our subscriber list have been around as long (or longer) as we have. If you have an interesting photo or an anecdote offering a unique historical perspective, please send it to my attention and I’ll share it with our readers. E-mail: pamb@pennwell.com; mailing address: Electric Light & Power, 1421 S. Sheridan Rd., Tulsa, OK 74112.

We look forward to working for and with you over the coming year, and extend our best wishes to you.

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