On March 4, 1902, three-fifths of Seattle voters approve $500,000 in bonds to fund construction of a municipal hydroelectric dam and plant at Cedar Lake. The project is entrusted to the Seattle Water Department and a young engineer named James D. Ross (1872-1939). The Seattle Lighting Department, or City Light, was created in 1910 and Ross became superintendent (following a brief tenure by Richard Arms) in 1911.
Discussion of a municipal power plant began in 1890 due to growing resentment of private interests controlling electrical services and streetcars. An effective monopoly emerged in 1900 with creation of the Seattle Electric Company (antecedent of Puget Sound Energy), angering reformers led by city engineers George Cotterill (1865-1958) and R. H. Thomson (1856-1949). Voters consistently sided with public ownership advocates through a series of additional bond elections.
The new Cedar Falls power plant delivered its first current to Seattle on January 10, 1905. The Seattle City Council created an independent Department of Lighting on April 1, 1910, and James D. Ross took over as its Superintendent in 1911. He held the post until his death in 1939.
Annual Report of the Lighting Department, 1911; Richard C. Berner, Seattle in the Twentieth Century Vols. 1 and 2 (Seattle: Charles Press, 1991 and 1992); Leslie Blanchard, The Streetcar Era in Seattle: A Chronicle of the First Six Decades (Forty Fort, PA: H. E. Cox, 1968); Walt Crowley, Routes: An Interpretive History of Public Transportation in Metropolitan Seattle (Seattle: Metro Transit, 1993); Robert C. Wing, A Century of Service: The Puget Power Story (Bellevue, WA: Puget Sound Power and Light Co., 1987); Warren Wing, To Seattle by Trolley, (Edmonds, WA: Pacific Fast Mail, 1988); Seattle City Light and City Clerk/Municipal Archives Website (www.cityofseattle.net).
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