From staff reports
Tracing its roots to a handful of companies that illuminated downtown street lights – from dusk until an hour after the saloons closed in some spots – the Pennsylvania Electric Company, or Penelec, marks its 100th anniversary today.
What began long ago as a tiny company in Philipsburg with 16 customers along two miles of line, Penelec, a FirstEnergy Corp. subsidiary, has evolved into a modern electric utility with more than 700 employees serving nearly 600,000 customers in 31 counties.
Those customers are spread throughout a sprawling 17,000-square-mile service territory, the largest footprint of any FirstEnergy utility.
Penelec will celebrate its 100th anniversary with active employees over breakfast in Johnstown, Erie, Altoona and 14 other company locations today.
Penelec retirees will be honored at receptions where they can visit with former co-workers, swap stories, view old photos and watch a video. Retiree receptions are scheduled throughout the week at company locations, including Oil City.
A resolution will be introduced this week in Harrisburg in honor of the milestone anniversary.
History mirrors economic growth
On June 10, 1919, the numerous electric companies that powered towns and cities such as Erie, Warren, Huntingdon, Lewistown, Bedford, Punxsutawney, Towanda and others consolidated to form the Penn Public Service Corp., headquartered in Johnstown. It was a “grow or go” time for the fledgling industry and Penn Public Service would swallow more than 20 small electric companies via mergers and acquisitions over the next decade.
An innovative Penn Public Service built and energized what was dubbed a “super power line” in 1926 to connect its Piney Hydroelectric station on the Clarion River in Clarion County to West Penn Power Company facilities in neighboring Armstrong County. This new line was the final link of a transmission connection that joined networks of 17 electric companies stretching from Chicago to Boston. Penn Public Service changed its name to the familiar Pennsylvania Electric Company, or Penelec, in 1927.
Linemen and their horse-drawn service wagons became commonplace as the 1920s progressed, just as people expected more from electricity than brighter streets and sidewalks. They demanded electric-powered lights in each room of their homes and clamored for electric irons, washing machines, vacuum cleaners and other “necessities” to ease their chores.
Never shy to promote novel ways for customers to use its product, Penelec in 1938 partnered with Westinghouse in the “Tuff Guy School” advertising campaign, highlighting the efforts of apron-clad men as they learned to cook tasty meals with electric kitchen appliances.
Residential electric consumption and industrial growth in Penelec’s service area continued after World War II. In 1946, Penelec became part of General Public Utilities (GPU) which merged with First Energy Corp. in 2001.
Strong community support
Since 2010, Penelec employees, augmented by FirstEnergy Foundation matching gifts, have pledged about $700,000 to area United Way organizations and collected about $153,000 and 5,500 pounds of food – the equivalent of nearly 1 million meals – for local food banks through Harvest for Hunger.
They’ve also participated in walk-a-thons, book drives, coat drives, blood drives and holiday toy and gift collections for numerous other charitable causes.
FirstEnergy’s 10 electric distribution companies form one of the nation’s largest investor-owned electric systems, serving customers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, West Virginia, Maryland and New York.
The company’s transmission subsidiaries operate more than 24,000 miles of transmission lines that connect the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions.