Document 25: Electrical World 75 May 15 1920

  An anonymous article in Electrical World 75 May 15 1920, pages 1133-1137:

According to the article's "Teaser", the four pages present a

Detailed Study of Reports from More Than 5,000 Central Stations Indicates That 33,008,500 Americans, or 30.7 Per Cent of the People, Live in Electrically Lighted Homes—Houses Wired Number 6,291,160, Farm-Lighting Plants About 340,000


(This report, upbeat about the rapid progress in electrification in America as the 1920s opens, is pretty dense. I have highlighted the  points that seemed salient to me, but the whole report is worth reading, even if it is somewhat a struggle, since it reports on a world vastly different  than what we know today. I have only included Figure 1 (above); there are several other Figures and Tables, very complex, that I will send -- should you wish to see them. Send me an email at )




…  Americans are now living in what may be termed the "electrical age," for the field of usefulness of electrical energy is being more rapidly developed in American homes than in the homes of any other people.

EW  studied reports from more than 5,000 electrical generating com­panies submitted in connection with the compilation of the 1920 edition of the "McGraw Central Station Directory and Data Book." This study shows information on electric service in over 10,000 cities and towns and the surrounding rural areas. The results are shown graphically in Figure 1.


"Electric Service in the American Home"

Electrical World 75

May 15 1920 

Pages: 1133-1137

(no author given)


THE home is the center of civilization from which 'flows the attributes which make or unmake a nation. In the council of nations the importance of a people can be judged from the enlightenment to be found in the homes of that people. The tendency toward retrogression is always in full force, and the advancement of a people as a whole can be accomplished only under the most favorable conditions. Americans are now living in what may be termed the "electrical age," for the field of usefulness of electrical energy is being more rapidly developed in American homes than in the homes of any other people. In an endeavor to ascertain the extent to which the American homes are now wired for electric service and the proportion of the people within the present reach of central-station distribution systems the ELECTRICAL WORLD has made a detailed study based upon recent reports from more than 5,000 electrical generating companies submitted in connection with the compilation of the 1920 edition of the "McGraw Central Station Directory and Data Book." This study has been very care-fully made from information covering the details of electric service in more than 10,000 cities and towns and the surrounding country districts. The summarized results are presented in Table I.

The central stations of the country cover at the present time territory populated by 62,023,400 people, or about 57.3 per cent of the total population of the United States. Of this population within reach of central-station service, about 55.8 per cent live in electrically lighted houses. Of the total population of the country, however, only 33,008,500, or 30.7 per cent, are enjoying the benefits of electricity in their homes. There is a total of 6,291,160 houses wired for electricity, of which 48.0 per cent are in the Central States. California ranks first in number of houses wired per capita with 79 per cent, while Mississippi ranks lowest with only 8.4 per cent. The total number of stores wired was determined to be 1,459,169.

Other estimates of this nature have been made in the last few years. In 1915 it was estimated that not more than 10 per cent of the residences of the country were connected with central stations. The same year the National Electric Light Association conducted a survey in which returns from more than 100 cities of a population of 5,000 or less, taken at random from all parts of the country, indicated that 58 per cent of the houses in these cities were wired. In cities ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 the percentage was 54, and thirty-two cities with a population of more than 10,000 or less than 20,000 showed that 60 per cent of the houses were wired. The Society for Electrical Development also issued a summary of a similar survey as of Jan. 1, 1918. This valuable contribution, entitled "Customers versus Population," gave the population reached and the residences served by the larger central stations. The statistical department of the Western Electric Company made a detailed study of the situation as of Jan. 1, 1918, estimating that 5,000,000 houses were wired at that time. However, there seems to be no record of any prior estimate by states based upon direct reports of a majority of the operating companies of the country, and it is believed that the survey and information reported herein will be of service to the industry.

The value of electric service for the home is now well recognized, and it is estimated by capable authorities that about 98 per cent of the houses being built in cities and towns are wired for electricity. It is most important, therefore, that the architect and contractor should consider carefully the proper location and proper number of outlets for lighting fixtures, sufficient appliance outlets for the numerous labor-saving devices now used for heating, cooking and power, as well as the proper location of the switch control. To obtain the maximum use of small household apparatus every inducement to their operation should be given, and slip-shod building plans which do not consider the conveniences of the occupants should be discouraged. In anticipation of a large consumption of electrical energy by electrically operated household appliances, a separate wiring system for these devices should be installed in new houses which will permit them to be connected to a separate meter. This enables the central station to adjust rate schedules when the demand merits a lower rate and to encourage the use of electrical appliances on an attractive basis.

As in all lines of industry central stations and distributing companies have been cutting down operating expenses to a minimum and making a minimum number of extensions. This enforced economy has resulted in the elimination of line extensions which under normal conditions would be considered essential to the proper growth of a company. In some cases the station and line capacity will not permit large additional load until new equipment is installed. Such companies are not encouraging new residence connections but are concentrating on the increased use of small household apparatus by their present customers. The use of household electrical devices creates essentially an off-peak load.

Many cities possessing the necessary station capacity have undertaken extensive house-wiring campaigns with complete success. In Elmira, N. Y., for instance, the number of houses wired was raised from 6,000 to 7,500 in one year, more than three-quarters of the houses in that city being now electrically wired. There is, however, little or no direct relation between the increase in number of new houses wired and increase in revenue. This was clearly demonstrated in Worcester, Mass., in 1917, when the number of wired houses increased 21.7 per cent while the revenue increased 32.4 per cent. It is also quite possible that a selling campaign will increase the revenue by the sale of small household appliances, while additional houses wired may raise the revenue without the sale of small household apparatus. Campaigns for wiring new houses and selling appliances conducted together make up the ideal combination.

The diagrams in Fig. 1 [see above] indicate the saturation of wired houses in the various sections of the country. The illustrations do not, however, indicate the location of the field of active operation for new wiring. The East South Central States show the largest ratio between wired and unwired houses, but the North Central, Middle Atlantic and New England States present the most fruitful field for future operations.

The present year holds forth large gains in wired houses in districts where there is ample generating capacity or where additional installations are contemplated. The new building in 1919 was estimated at five billion dollars, of which about 40 per cent was for residences, giving about 200,000 new houses. The building operations in 1920 are estimated at six billion dollars, of which about two and one-half billion dollars will be spent on about 240,000 residences. Such construction offers a tremendous field for domestic lighting as well as a large growth in the use of small household electrical apparatus, and to this field must be added the old houses, a large quantity of which will undoubtedly be wired during the year. There is, however, a time lag of from six to nine months after building permits are issued before the effect of new house installations is shown from central-station records, so that building under-taken in the fall of the year will not appreciably affect the central-station output of the present year.

The American farmer, while happy and satisfied with his surroundings, still has a secret yearning, with reason, for some of the comforts which are to be found in the town and city dwelling. He is becoming convinced that electricity offers him light, running water, labor-saving devices and sanitation at small cost. Thus the farm furnishes a field of no small proportions for electrical development in the future. Farmers as a whole are financially able to install electrical appliances in their houses and barns, but they have not as yet been fully educated into the advantages of electric service.

Three ways are open to the farmer to get electric service: (1) Direct from a central-station transmission line; (2) by a small, private plant run by a gasoline engine; (3) by a small private plant run by water power. In order that an idea might be obtained of the present development of the farm-plant industry extensive correspondence was undertaken in connection with the present survey. From various sources actual data and estimates have been obtained covering the distribution. of farm plants of various makes .throughout the
country. While the estimates varied over wide ranges, the consensus of opinion is that there were about 340,000 farm plants in the United States at the present time, and that from 100,000 to 110,000 plants will be sold during 1920.

The figures given in Table I showing the number of farm-lighting plants at present installed in the various states must not be considered as exact, but are based on reports received from various manufacturing concerns and are believed to represent correctly the proportionate distribution of farm plants throughout the country. While there are about 6,400,000 farms in the nation, yet only about two-thirds of them can be considered prospects for farm-lighting plants, on account of their small size, their unproductiveness or the personality of the farmer.

Farm lighting opens up a field involving hundreds of millions of dollars. At an average rate of $500 for each plant, the farm-lighting business of 1920 will amount to $50,000,000 or $55,000,000. This does not include accessories and appliances. The installation of lighting plants on the farm will mean the installation of sanitary plumbing fixtures, water-supply equipment and up-to-date heating apparatus. The servant problem is especially serious on the farm, and the farmer's wife will find a way to obtain various household labor-saving devices once the electric service to operate them is available.

One of the primary causes of slow progress in introducing complete electric service in the homes of some sections of the country is the existence of odd frequencies and odd voltages of central-station service; that is residence service at other than 60 cycles and 110 volts. Most small household devices are designed for standard ratings. Fig. 2 shows the location of the central stations of the country where the service to residences is at a frequency other than 60 cycles. Numerous plants of this type are located in northern New York, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, and California possesses a considerable number. Many of these are old plants of small rating, operated under conditions that do not warrant new or rehabilitated installations. As transmission networks are extended these plants will gradually be eliminated or taken over and their service standardized. Table II gives the location of plants with odd voltages.

As a matter of information the kinds of fuel burned by the various central stations are included in Table II. The relation between the use of coal and oil as a fuel is very clearly indicated. These statistics are as of Jan. 1, 1919, and it is probable that later data will show many changes.