Seattle City Light: Early Days as Described by an Employee

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 12/12/2000
  • Essay 2885
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This file contains an undated, unsigned letter describing what it was like working at Seattle City Light in the early years, around 1910. The letter is held in the Seattle Municipal Archives.

The Letter

"In early days employees took a personal interest in developing City Light, much as if it were their own business. [The power plant at] Cedar Falls operated only at night to feed street lighting. [It] drew power from a private company -- not PS [Puget Sound Traction, Power & Light, later Puget Sound Power & Light and Puget Sound Energy] -- that had a plant at Snoqualmie Falls. This often failed and [City Light Superintendent J.D.] Ross accused private company of cutting off deliberately, as PS salesmen would go out and solicit business during these times."

[Note: Snoqualmie Falls Power Co. also supplied electricity to Seattle from its hydro plant at Snoqualmie Falls. In 1910, it merged with Seattle Electric Co. to become Puget Sound Traction, Power and Light. From 1910 to 1951, City Light and PSP&L competed to provide electricity to Seattle.]

"PS was unfair to organized labor for 15 years and the linemen's union helped City Light greatly. A group of linemen would go to a saloon and drink, and talk the owner into taking City Light. Then they would call up Watson in the middle of the night to come over to the saloon and write a contract. The Linemen's Union sent representatives around to all union shops to get them to switch over to City Light."

"In those days employees like [Ormand D.] Watson, [Ed] Hendricks, [Tom] Stevens, et al. were doing everything -- work in the power plant, read all the meters one day, work in office to get out all the bills the next day, go out later and make collections, sales, install equipment or anything else necessary."

"Hope I live long enough to see the last PS meter cut out in Seattle" -- Mr. Watson.

"This spirit was very real in original group of employees, many of who were never rewarded by any high position -- and no one in City Light ever got much salary that I know of."


Undated unsigned letter, City Light History Records Group, Seattle Municipal Archives, Seattle, Washington ; 1920 Seattle City Directory, (Chicago: R.L. Polk Co., 1920), pp. 723, 1446, 1692.

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