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Twentieth-Century Business Archives

New York State Electric & Gas Corporation - Lehman Brothers Collection

New York State Electric & Gas Corporation

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New York State Electric and Gas Corporation (NYSEG) traces its history back to 1852, when it was incorporated as the Ithaca Gas Light Company. The company quickly laid mains and built a coal gas plant. In 1853 Ithaca's streets were first lit by gas lights.

During the thirty years following the founding of Ithaca Gas Light, the use of methane gas grew steadily. In the 1870s and 1880s the electric arc light began to make a splash in the street-lighting industry. By the 1890s the invention of the incandescent bulb, the central generating station, and alternating current spelled the eventual doom for the gas-lighting business. At that time, Ithaca Gas Light began buying local electric companies. In 1910 Ithaca Gas Light itself was acquired by Associated Gas & Electric, a utility holding company that had already consolidated several area utilities, including the rival Ithaca Electric Light and Power Company. During the first quarter of the century, more than 240 local companies or interests were absorbed, either directly by Ithaca Gas Light or by other utility companies that later combined to form NYSEG. Among the most prominent of these were Eastern New York Electric & Gas Corporation; New York Central Electric Corporation; Elmira Water, Light & Railroad Company; Binghamton Light, Heat & Power Company; Western New York Gas & Electric Corporation; and Empire Gas & Electric Company. During this time, the company underwent a series of name changes. In 1916 it became Ithaca Gas & Electric, in 1918 New York State Gas and Electric, in 1928 New York Electric Corporation, and in 1929 New York State Electric & Gas Corporation. By 1937 the company had reached a service area of approximately 355 of the state.

As demand grew, the company built or acquired progressively larger steam-generating plants. With increasing financial sophistication, a system of use-based metering was installed. Service, which had initially been limited to evening hours, was extended to twenty-four hours a day. Electric appliances became popular. In response to increasing demand, the company built a series of large diesel and coal-fired generators. While NYSEG executives dealt with the everyday activities of the electric company, ultimate control was maintained by the holding company. After the passage of the Public Utilities Holding Company Act, General Public Utilities Corporation was forced to divest itself of NYSEG. NYSEG became an independent, investor-owned utility in 1949.

The company's revenues exceeded $100 million by the end of the 1950s, and earnings surpassed $5.7 million. After a massive blackout in 1965, the company and other major New York State utilities began searching for ways to avoid future power failures. In 1966 they formed the New York Power Pool to insure greater reliability and assist members in buying electricity during periods of peak demand. The following year they announced what the Wall Street Journal called "a single energy control center near Albany to control all their generation and long-distance transmission of electricity."

In 1967 NYSEG announced plans to build a nuclear-generating plant. By 1973, however, the company had abandoned the project due to environmental concerns as well as legal and regulatory delays. The supply of natural gas became problematic during the 1970s. New York state officials ordered the company to stop accepting new gas customers in 1974. The early 1970s was also a time of economic difficulty for United States utilities. In 1975 NYSEG announced it had become an 18 percent partner in Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation's 1.1 million-kilowatt Nine Mile Point No. 1 atomic unit.

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