EL&P weathers the Great Depression

There were lean years for EL&P in the 1930s. For a magazine that averaged a hundred pages or more in the 1920s, it saw a significant cutback around 1933.

However, before the cutbacks hit hard, EL&P started out the decade with some seriously controversial editorials, ones dealing with the growing depression and its relation to the industry, to politics and to the cry for serious government regulation of utilities.

In the January 1930 editorial entitled “Graveyard Whistlers,” the staff laments the need for the power industry to prove it can survive the stock market crash of the previous year.

“One of Chicago’s biggest bankers said at a dinner the other night what amounted to this: ‘If I wanted to start a run on my bank, a quick way to do it would be to put a man on the sidewalk to stop passersby and tell them that the bank is solvent, full of liquid assets, strong and in no fear of failure.’

“Why all the bally-hoo about millions to be spent in business since the stock market collapse?” the staff asked.

Harper Leech, an EL&P Public Policy Editor throughout the decade, took on then-governor Roosevelt in a piece he entitled “Remarks on a Standard Alibi,” where he went so far as to write that “Gov. Roosevelt and the other political gentlemen who have of late concerned themselves with the so-called ‘power question’ are so indignant when one ventures to point out the intellectual kinship of their theories with those now favored by the ruling clique in Russia.”


A view of a handy one man tower wagon which may be driven from either the upper or lower seat. It is used by the Public Service Company of NJ for lamp or tree trimming. The platform is raised by a motor which operates from the battery. Courtesy Walker Vehicle Company (EL&P, April 1930, page 88.)
Click here to enlarge image

But, the EL&P of the 1930s wasn’t made up entirely of controversial editorials. It also saw a move toward a technical look at power generation and transmission with articles like “The Automatic Idea,” written by S.J. Lisberger, then Chief Electrical and Steam Engineer with Pacific Gas & Electric.

EL&P tried a special “selling” section in early 1930 to give an angle for that utility merchandising that had begun in the 1920s and now had a firm hold. Punched by a red and gray replica of the front cover, the section featured editorials, articles and ads on selling those electric ranges to the public and the benefits of air conditioning.

April’s “selling” section features a subsection entitled “Electric Service Personnel” which parallels the “Executive Appointments” section that EL&P still runs in its news briefs. The section also began to feature an annual survey of electric ranges as one of its top articles, and, in August, the two sections began to be published separately, effectively splitting EL&P into an “engineering and management section” and a “selling” section. This trend would not last long, as the two sections would be reunited in January 1932.

Other changes in the magazine over the decade included a switch from the traditional June coverage of the National Electric Light Association convention to the Edison Electric Institute when it began to meet in 1933. The magazine mourned the loss of Thomas Edison with a cover tribute and an editorial obituary in 1931, and they lost the “engineering, management and selling” tagline in 1934. There was a wane in merchandise advertising toward the end of the decade, with a focus on technical and distribution products, and Reddy Kilowatt popped up his familiar head with the “autobiography of a kWh” late in 1936.

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