Power for the People

A History of Seattle City Light

David W. Wilma and Walt Crowley

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  • Published: 2010
  • Subject Listing: History
  • Bibliographic information: 128 pp., 158 illus., 11 x 10 in.
  • Distributed for: History Link
  • Contents

Since before Seattle voters decided in 1902 to build their own lighting plant, City Light has been a source of fierce civic pride for its independence from "foreign" corporations, its impressive public works projects, and its consistently low electricity rates. It has also been a headache for competitors, managers, and politicians. In the first years of the electric age, when Seattle was still a hard-scrable frontier town, power was supplied by a revolving cast of small private utilities remembered mostly for frequent mergers with rivals and mediocre service at high cost. The failure of the privately owned water company to deliver enough of its product to quell Seattle's Great Fire of 18889 got city officials and residents thinking about an alternative utility model - municipal ownership. Voters quickly approved a municipal wter system, and within a decade had laid the groundwork for an electric utility. City Light quickly began a campaign of dam construction that for most of the twentieth century provided Seattle with the cheapest electricity of any major city in the country.

This brisk history traces the utility's origins to 1889 and follows its story through the national energy crisis of 2000-2001 up to the present. It is a quintissentially Northwest story.

"Provides a different angle into Seattle history and connects Seattle to the mountains and rivers and dams northeast of here. 'Power' also reminds us of the complex story and infrastructure that lie behind our ability to flick on the lights."
-City Living