Snohomish County PUD begins sale of electricity on September 1, 1949.

  • By Margaret Riddle
  • Posted 8/04/2008
  • Essay 8715

On September 1, 1949, Snohomish County Public Utility District No. 1 begins the sale of electrical power to Snohomish County and Camano Island residents by purchasing the electrical distribution system from Puget Sound Power & Light Company for $16.5 million. This ends more than a decade of legal struggle.

The Struggle for Public Power

Tacoma and Seattle had public power in the early 1900s, but most rural areas in Washington state were dominated and ill-served by private utility companies. One of the first acts of legislature in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration was the establishment of the Rural Electrification Act (REA) in 1932. The same year Homer Bone (1883-1970) of Tacoma was elected to the Washington State Senate. Bone was the major advocate for public power. Moves were made throughout the state to create public utility districts.

Snohomish County supporters of public power were able to get an initiative on the ballot in 1932 but opposition was strong. Mayors in 10 Snohomish County communities argued against the proposition on the basis that the law would allow for confiscation of land and thus tax revenues would be lost. The measure lost.

A new measure was on the Snohomish County ballot proposed in 1936. By this time the federal government had begun construction of the Grand Coulee Dam and the Bonneville Dam in Washington state. This time the measure passed, creating the Snohomish County Public Utility District.

Snohomish County faced a long struggle as it attempted to purchase and convert the electrical distribution system from Puget Sound Power & Light Company. The private utility's stock family was a powerful one, Puget Power being owned by Engineers Public Service Company, which was owned by the Stone & Webster Company.

The Battle Ends

Negotiations continued for more than a decade as the Snohomish County PUD hassled over price and conditions. On September 1, 1949, Snohomish County PUD purchased Puget Power's electrical distribution system in the county for $16.5 million. This was the last major sale of private power company property in Washington state.

The utility district now was able to sell electricity to both Snohomish County and Camano Island residents. Revenue from this service soon paid off the purchase price.

Sources: "Biographical Note," Guide to the Lillian S. Spear Papers 1931-1963, Acc. No. 0381, University of Washington Special Collections, Seattle, Washington;, The Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Bone, Homer Truett (1883-1970),  (by Frank Chesley), (accessed July 2008); "Public Power in Snohomish County," Snohomish County PUD website accessed June 20, 2008 (; "A History of Public Power in Washington," Washington Public Utility District Association (WPUDA) website accessed July 21, 2008 (

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You