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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

AEP: 100 years

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, December 10, 2006

Luke Feck is celebrating the 100th anniversary of American Electric Power with the publication of the book, "A Century of Firsts."

 

The author is retired from AEP's Corporate Communications Department, and has been working on this book for six years.

 

The book begins with an excellent overview of the electric industry.

 

The industry was born on October 19, 1879 when Thomas Edison tested a carbonized thread in a light bulb, which glowed for 40 hours.

 

In 1882, Broadway in New York City was lighted with bright white arc lights 150 feet above the street, causing the name "The Great White Way."

 

Hotels were early customers for electricity, and the Pearl Street Station became the first power plant to begin selling electricity to customers.

 

George Westinghouse became an early player in electrical development, as well as Edison's Menlo Park staff as new inventions were produced.

 

The early roots of AEP can be traced to Marion, Indiana in 1899 when Richard Breed, Jr. formed the American Gas and Electric Company.

 

100 years ago this month, AGE was incorporated in Albany, New York and began taking over various local utility companies including Canton, Bridgeport, Ohio, and Wheeling.

 

As I read this book, I couldn't help but notice the local connections in the naming of power plants for early industry leaders.

 

In 1904, George Nathan Tidd was hired to operate the Electric Company of America's property in Indiana.

 

A delegation of Indiana women marched into Tidd's office and demanded that his power plant be operated on Tuesday afternoon so they could use their new electric irons.

 

The plant could barely operate from dusk to midnight, but Tidd adopted a goal of "electricity every hour of the day, every day of the week."

 

Tidd's name was applied to the power plant constructed at Brilliant in 1945.

 

The namesake for the plant died in 1952 at the age of 76.

 

Another early industry leader was Sidney Z. Mitchell, vice-president of Electric Bond and Share, a company spun off of General Electric in 1905.

 

His name, as well as construction supervisor Bert Kammer, would be applied to power plants in the Ohio Valley in 1958 and 1971.

 

The book also provides the significant "first" of a power plant located near the large volumes of water needed, as well as coal for a fuel supply.

 

The Windsor Power Plant north of Wheeling was a joint venture of AGE and West Penn Power Co., with a 55-mile transmission line to Canton to transmit the power load.

 

Industries in the Akron-Canton area provided the customer base for the power, and thus the capital needed for the project.

 

With the big Windsor plant operating in 1917, AGE turned to a similar project near Zanesville, the Philo Plant.

 

The Post Office made Taylorsville change its name to Philo, and an even bigger plant came online with new "firsts" for the power industry.

 

Both Philo and Windsor operated into the 1970s to be replaced by a new generation of coal-fired plants operating today.

 

Name changes led to American Electric Power in 1958, and eventually a system of AEP corporations leading to the 100th anniversary this year.

 

My favorite picture in the book is in the forefront.

 

It is a photo of a line crew working in Stark County, all boarded on a power company truck of the era, which appears to say "Studebaker" on the radiator.

 

But the interesting part of the photo is a poster attached to the radiator advertising a "Frolic and Basket Picnic" to be held September 4, 1920 at a park in Massillon.