Roaring ’20s trumpets a new industry and a new magazine

By Kathleen Davis, Associate Editor

It was the age of flappers and Bessie Smith and the Hot Jazz Five; it was an age that would later become known as the “Roaring ’20s”.

It saw the birth of major industries, like the motion picture studio system and America’s interconnected power companies. And, along with those power companies came a fledgling magazine geared toward the “Central Station man.” That magazine was labeled “Electric Light & Power,” a simple, straight-forward name that combined its general subject, electricity, with its target audience, employees of “light & power” companies.

While the actual launch date of Electric Light & Power was January 1923, the work put into organization and editorial began way back into 1922, making 2002 EL&P’s 80th year.

The first cover of EL&P exclaimed, “Not just another electrical magazine. It covers every phase of central station operation in the language of the business man.”

Even then EL&P was sent complimentary to a selected list, and they only asked one thing of their readers: “Tell us often and frankly what is what.”

Highlights of the decade

The first decade of EL&P saw many interesting topics, both technical and cultural. In fact, the very first editorial was wrapped around a rhyming poem entitled “Our partly metric bow.” That editorial positioned EL&P in a place of information and service that it hasn’t strayed far from in its 80 years.

In that editorial, the first EL&P staff wrote, “To be this great paper of the electric light and power business, this journal must devote itself to service. It must continue to express its belief in the electrification of manufacturing processes, of transportation and of domestic work for the economic benefit of the nation.”

The first decade of EL&P saw articles that could be written today-ones about regulation and “Knocking the ‘Y’ out of Your,” which sounds like it could be penned by our own Ted Pollock. However, there were some unusual turns: “Educating the Woman Employee” and “Electrify your City NOW” being two examples.

In April 1923, EL&P discussed just how to gussy up those Central Station men in “Improving the Appearance of Light & Power Employees.” Along with some lovely black-and-white photos of un-comfortable men doing their best to shrink from the camera, the article gave a nice seasonal list, broken down by price, for the right look. In summer, light and power men should don leather puttees ($3), a khaki shirt ($1.63) and khaki trousers ($3.25). In winter, the look changes to a woolen shirt ($4) and corduroy breeches ($3.75).

Even the ads were a bit different. In those days, light and power men weren’t just technicians and repairmen and engineers. They were salesmen. Most light and power companies had a sales floor that showed would-be consumers all the available gadgets-besides the well-known lamp-which could help them use all that lovely electri-city the light and power men were working so hard to produce. As a result, EL&P had consumer ads on top of the traditional ones for insulators and transmission poles. Everything from fans to Frigidares was hawked on the pages of EL&P in the 1920s.

In December 1924, Bryant Superior Wiring Devices had an ad featuring a complicated crossword puzzle. One “horizontal” asked for “the largest wiring device manufacturer in the world.” Now, no actual record of the answers to this crossword survives in our archives, but, as there were six blanks, we’re fairly sure the answer they were looking for is “Bryant.”

Before “set it and forget it” was the slogan of Ron Popeil’s Ronco Showtime Rotisserie, it sold Crawford Electric Ranges in 1926 EL&P print ads. And while pro-sports double-threat Bo Jackson may have exclaimed “Bo knows” for Nike in the early 1990s, Packard Electric Company told us that “Noah knows transformer cores” way back in 1926.

In the end, while there may be amusing differences in culture and ads, the basic mantra of EL&P has remained unchanged in 80 years: EL&P knows service. We serve that Central Station man still, along with his manager, the company executives and the related marketers, financiers and investors.

H.T. Sands, the first Vice President of the National Electric Light Association, summed it up succinctly in an article for the June 1927 issue.

“Service is a word of broad meaning,” he wrote. “To most it means service to the public. To me it means also service to the investor, as well as to the customer, because unless we administer our properties so as to pay a fair wage to the investor of the money we are using, we cannot long continue to secure the capital needed to expand our services to meet the public demand.”

1925 brides should receive electrical gifts, according to the May 1925 cover for Electric Light & Power.
Click here to enlarge image

The original caption of this photo went on to say that The Society for Electrical Development offers service companies and dealers a complete assortment of beautiful advertising material designed to direct gift purchase to things electrical.

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