Seattle voters approve City Light purchase of Puget Power assets within city limits on November 7, 1950.

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 1/01/2000
  • Essay 2768
See Additional Media

On November 7, 1950, Seattle voters narrowly approve City Light's acquisition of Puget Power's assets within city limits at a cost of $27.8 million. The referendum passes by a scant 754 votes out of a total of 130,000 cast, and ends a half-century power struggle between the two utilities.

Puget Power was an outgrowth of Puget Sound Traction, Light & Power Company, through which the national Stone & Webster cartel consolidated its control of a tangle of local utilities, streetcar lines, and interurban railways beginning in 1900. Fear of a potential private monopoly spurred development of the municipal-owned City Light two years later. The the two utilities battled for customers and dominance over the next 48 years.

Puget Power sold its streetcar lines to the City of Seattle in 1918 at an inflated price that bankrupted the service. It offered to forgive the debt in exchange for City Light, but the government declined. Federal regulators broke up the Stone & Webster cartel in 1934, and Puget Power reorganized under a local board of directors. It closed its last interurban railway in 1938, but operated the North Coast bus line for another 10 years.

City Light's development of relatively cheap hydroelectric sources on the Skagit River gave it a competitive edge. Puget Power finally agreed to dispose of its remaining Seattle customers and facilities in order to focus on the burgeoning postwar suburban market. Puget Power reorganized in the 1990s and merged with Washington Natural Gas to create Puget Sound Energy and Washington Energy companies.


Walt Crowley, Routes: An Interpretive History of Public Transportation in Metropolitan Seattle (Seattle: Metro Transit, 1993).

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