Seattle voters approve electric utility bonds on March 4, 1902, leading to creation of Seattle City Light.

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 1/01/2000
  • Essay 2317
See Additional Media

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 (

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You