EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is another article on Findlay area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier. The data for this and next week’s articles on Findlay electric light plants comes from the notebook of the late Donald E. Smith, an authority on early Findlay history.
Findlay’s first electric lights appeared in June 1887 during the community’s three-day celebration of the discovery of oil and gas, launching the gigantic boom which quadrupled the city’s population almost overnight.
The climax of the 1887 jubilee was an evening program, conducted in a large building constructed at the foot of Beech Avenue on the bank of the Blanchard River. The structure was known as “the wigwam.” The committee in charge of the evening program arranged with an outside firm, the Thompson Electric Light Co., Houston, to illuminate the buildings with electric light. To have lighted the interior with natural gas would have made it too warm for comfort, it pointed out.
The success of the electric illumination of the wigwam prompted city officials to look into the matter of lighting the streets of Findlay, electrically. In the summer of 1888, a year later, a contract was entered into with the Thompson-Houston concern, calling for 100 street lights. Fremont and Lima were also installing electric street lights, but Findlay had 20 more than Fremont and 42 more than Lima. The plans called for a light at every intersection on Main Street and a light at two-block intervals on principal side streets. The cost was $60 a year for each light.
The Findlay Electric Light and Power Co. was organized to conduct the local business and a two-story brick building was erected on Putnam Street to house the facilities. The city’s new lights were turned on on a Saturday night, Oct. 28, 1888 for the first time.
On May 8, 1889, the company began to furnish electricity for use in local business houses. In 1891, the company decided to install a meter system of measuring use of electricity, which the next year increased its facilities to enable it to furnish electricity for power purposes.
In 1892, a competitive electric company developed locally under the name of the Hancock Electric Power and Light Co. Charles F. Smith had come to Findlay from Cincinnati in 1887 to install the first streetcar service here. It was a horse-car system and operated between Howard Run on the north side and Sixth Street on the south side at the start. Five years later Mr. Smith, who had been associated with George B. Kerper in streetcar operations in Cincinnati, laid the plans here for the formation of the Hancock Electric Power and Light Co. and the horse-drawn streetcar system was electrified under his guidance.
On Sept. 7, 1883, the two electric firms here were consolidated under the name of the Hancock Light and Power Co., with capital stock of $80,000. Officers were as follows: George B. Kerper, president; Mr. Smith, vice-president; Col. James A. Bope, secretary; E.P. Jones, treasurer; and John M. Barr, manager of the Findlay Electric Light and Power Co., having succeeded B.P. Foster, the initial manager.
Mr. Smith was superintendent of the street railway and in 1895 took charge of the electric light plant also.
The Hancock firm had built its power house on the north side, along the bank of the Blanchard River near Cory Street. Under the consolidation, the north-side plant was used for the commercial lighting department of the business and the Putnam Street plant for city lights and power for the street railroad. Later the north-side plant was closed down.
On Dec. 29, 1899, the Hancock Electric Light and Power Co. was merged with the Findlay Street Railway Co. It was really a paper transaction because both were owned by the same individuals and under the same management, but separate names had been kept until 1899.