Growth of electric service industry of North Central Ohio
North Central Ohio Biographies



The rapid development of this section of Ohio has been closely interlinked with the development of the art of generating, transmitting and distributing electric current. Since 1879 when Thomas A. Edison invented the first electric light bulb the growth of electric service companies has been phenomenal. Electricity was first used only for lighting and the invention of the alternating current motor paved the way for its use in industrial plants. At first small isolated steam engine driven plants were established in each of the larger towns and cities and these plants were located close to the load for their current. These plants, the forerunners of the present day superpower plants, operated only a few hours per day and service was very unreliable.

The operation of the original Ashland Gas and Electric Company plant was typical of the service available in towns and cities of Huron, Lorain, Medina, Wayne, Ashland, Richland, and Knox counties. The plant was started up at dusk and operated only until midnight. On moonlight nights no street lights were burned and one or two men took entire care of the plant, lines and poles. Later a few motors in factories were connected and the plant operated all day, with frequent interruptions to service from failure of equipment or other causes. The cost of current was high and only the well to do citizen could afford its use in their home for lights. Electrical appliances, such as irons, washers, radios, vacuum cleaners, toasters, percolators, etc., were unknown. It was assumed the principal use for electric current was for lighting.

Shortly after the year 1900 a few electric railways were established and gradually interurban electric lines were built. In this section what is now known as the Cleveland and Southwestern Railroad was built. Also the Lake Shore Electric Railway and a few minor short lines. The Cleveland and Southwestern Railroad connected Cleveland with the cities of Elyria, Oberlin, Medina, Wooster, Ashland, Mansfield, and Norwalk. The Lake Shore Electric Railway connected Cleveland and Toledo and ran through Lorain, and. Sandusky. Before the advent of paved roads and the automobile interurban railways were the principal means of transportation for short trips not available by steam railroads. Frequent service was given and amusement parks, served by electric lines, were established in various choice locations.

During the period of the World War the counties of Huron, Lorain, Medina, Wayne, Ashland, Richland and Knox developed rapidly along with the rest of Northern Ohio as an industrial and manufacturing region. As a natural and economic point for the iron ore from the north and the coal from the south to meet steel mills, foundries, metal working plans and allied industries were established. Automobile parts fabricating plants developed and the cities grew in size. Rubber plants, brass plants, glass factories and a large variety of industrial plants sprang up. With the growth of the cities standards of living were raised; bigger payrolls put more money into circulation; new homes were built and items formerly classed as luxuries became necessities for the recognized standard of comfortable living.

The alternating current motor was put into use as a source of motive power in the manufacturing plants. The ease of installation; operation and flexible plant control as well as more efficiency and production resulted in practically all industries becoming electrified. From this the character of service given by local electric current companies changed and their service, instead of being practically all for lighting became predominately for power. In a large number of the cities in these counties over ninety per cent of the total current was used for power.

Naturally these heavy loads and demands for power swamped the local electric plants. When they were built they had not provided for expansion and the fact, known all along to far seeing engineers, became evident that large capacity plants could not be built in the cities where the power was used. This was because of sufficient condensing water not being available. A modern plant used twenty tons of water to each ton of coal and the water must be of a normal temperature to condense the steam quickly after the steam has done its work in the turbine which turns the generator. Coal can be transported but water transportation is impractical. The two sources of water in Ohio in sufficient quantities for a large modern plant are the shores of Lake Erie and the banks of the Ohio River and lower sections of the Muskingum River. Thus we have seen the modern plants located about equally in each place. In the case of power plants on Lake Erie's shore there is a high freight rate on coal from the mines of Southern Ohio and West Virginia and in the case of power plants on the Ohio River there is the transmission line cost and losses to get the power up in the section which uses it.

In Lorain County at Avon is located a large power station owned and operated by The Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company. Built at a cost of many millions it generates power for Northeastern Ohio and has a capacity of several hundred thousand horsepower. Transmission lines on steel towers carry the power to distributing substations. The Rowsburg Road substation of The Ohio Public Service Company at Ashland is typical of these outdoor stations.

Modern business methods soon saw control of the small isolated plants pass into the hands of larger companies, adequately financed and properly managed to give the type of service the cities required. Steel tower transmission lines were built; mammoth substations erected and facilities for distributing power economically and reliably in large quantities put in. The city of Lorain which has at present a demand of 20,000 horsepower is served by a large steam plant and also by high voltage transmission lines from Toledo, Cleveland and Ashland. This situation is typical of the service available in such cities as Elyria, Ashland, Wooster, Mansfield, Mt. Vernon and others.

All electric utilities in Ohio come under state control as to the rates charged for service. Utility companies are allowed, after paying all operating and normal maintenance charges and setting aside five per cent of their valuation for replacements to earn eight per cent as a net profit. Very few of them charge rates so as to earn the full amount allowed by law and any earnings over the allowed amount are cared for by a reduction in rates. The history of rates since 1922 has been that they have dropped steadily as economies in the art of producing, transmitting and distributing electric service improved and the widespread use of electric service increased.

Modern manufacturing methods and man's ingenuity have produced in a steadily increasing variety and at constantly lowered prices the familiar household appliances such as the electric iron, electric toaster, electric percolator, electric fan, electric vacuum cleaner, electric stove, electric refrigerator, electric washer, electric mangle and numerous others. These have had widespread adoption in the home and have contributed to the comfortable and convenient living of the people.

Now practically every home in every city, town and hamlet in the section has electric service. Their average monthly bill for service is less than ten cents per day and they have at their disposal by a snap of a switch the capacity of mammoth plants and services of a highly trained and efficient organization. Much progress has been made in extending lines into rural territory and now thousands of farm homes have all the facilities of modern electric service at their disposal.

Ownership of one of the principal electric service companies in this territory, The Ohio Public Service Company, is vested in its thousands of stockholders who are also its customers. The plan of customer ownership is sound and has the advantage of providing a safe investment for local funds at a fair rate of return, and assuring a realization on the part of the men operating the company of their obligation to render efficient service at a low cost.

No history of the growth of the electric service industry would be complete without a prophecy of its future. Undoubtedly as much progress in utilization of this magic servant will be made in the future as in the past and the large reliable and well managed companies keep an eye ahead all the time to assure their service of being able to meet the requirements.

History of North Central Ohio
Embracing Richland, Ashland, Wayne,
Medina, Lorin, Huron and Knox Counties
BY: William A. Duff
Historical Publishing Company
Topeka-Indianapolis 1931

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