Seattle City Light becomes an independent department on April 1, 1910.

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 1/01/2000
  • Essay 2316
On April 1, 1910, the Seattle City Council approves the creation of an independent Department of Lighting, later known as City Light. The new department is separated from the former Department of Light and Water, which had built the city's first hydroelectric dam at Cedar Falls in 1905, and it is made a full member of the Board of Public Works. James D. Ross (1872-1939) takes charge of the new department in 1911 and serves as its superintendent until 1934.

City Light was a product of mounting public anxiety over monopoly control of Seattle's electric services and street railways. Voters approved bonds for a municipal dam and power plant on the Cedar River in 1902. J. D. Ross supervised construction. The project delivered its first current to Seattle on January 10, 1905.

The Legacy of J. D. Ross

The former Water Department was renamed the Department of Light and Water in 1904 under superintendent L. B. Youngs (1860-1923). R. M. Arms served briefly as the first Superintendent of Lighting before Ross succeeded him in 1911.

Ross guided development of city-owned dams on the Skagit River beginning in 1918. Private utilities deeply resented him. Mayor Frank Edwards dismissed Ross in 1931 and voters promptly recalled him. The new mayor, John F. Dore, immediately rehired Ross, who headed City Light until 1935. He left to join the new Securities Exchange Commission, and died four years later.

Sources: 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); City Light and City Clerk/Municipal Archives pages, City of Seattle website (

Related Topics:   Government & Politics | Infrastructure | Seattle City Light

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