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Twentieth-Century Business Archives

Kansas City Power & Light Company - Lehman Brothers Collection

Kansas City Power & Light Company

List of Deals

In 1876 Edwin Ruthven Weeks, after witnessing an electric arc light demonstration, convinced Joseph S. Chick, L. R. Moore, and Judge William Holmes to invest in the new technology. In 1881 the men purchased an exclusive contract for $4,000 to provide power to two counties; the following year they incorporated the Kawsmouth Electric Light Company.

Originally serving thirteen commercial customers, the plant became one of the first to use dynamos with automatic regulators. The system utilized the Thomson-Houston regulator, an invention that balanced electric output to make service possible to multiple customers. Downtown Kansas City was the first section of town to be lighted; by the end of 1882, forty-eight merchants utilized the system. In 1885 the company reincorporated as the Kansas City Electric Light Company. By 1887 the system was at capacity.

Residential customers began demanding incandescent lights. Edwin Weeks developed the Edison Electric Light & Power Company to meet this need and tied its operations closely to the Kansas City Electric Light Company. During the next decade, increased competition, rate wars, and the 1893 financial panic created difficult times for the utility industry. In response to such difficulties, the company's directors began to look for a purchaser and found one in J. Ogden Armour. Armour, heir to the famous meat-packing company, was one of the owners of the Metropolitan Street Railway Company of Kansas City. He purchased the company in 1900.

Infused with new capital, the company was able to buy up competing electric suppliers and eliminate costly duplication of power distribution lines. Eventually the company was Kansas City's only source for electrical power, warranting a new power plant, which was built in 1903. The company began supplying steam heat to the downtown area a year later. Armour and his partners managed two major businesses, the lighting system and the street railway. They expected the streetcar industry to grow more rapidly than the electric industry and thus geared expansion plans toward the railway system. Increasing power demands of the railway system took precedence over the needs of electrical customers. Eventually this dual operation took a toll on Kansas City Electric Light Company.

In 1911 the company went into receivership. Five years later the company underwent a reorganization. The street railway was separated from the electric company, although the streetcar interests retained control of several major power plants. The new electric corporation formed at that time was named Kansas City Light & Power Company. In 1917 the company began construction on the Northeast Power station, its first modern generating complex. Savings from this new plant helped the company's net income increase from $8,550 in 1919 to $562,000 the next year, and five years later to $2.6 million. During this time, rates to customers decreased. In 1919 the company reincorporated again, as Kansas City Power and Light Company. It reorganized after acquiring the Carroll County Electric Company four years later, and became the Kansas City Power & Light Company.

Armour's interest was sold in 1923, and the Continental Gas & Electric Corporation purchased the controlling interest a year later. The company remained under the umbrella of the United Light and Power holding company system until United dissolved in 1950. Kansas City Power prospered during that time. The company enlarged its service territory through the acquisition of other utilities in western Missouri and eastern Kansas and increased its generating capacity from 60 to 260 megawatts. World War II slowed any domestic industrial expansion, including activity at Kansas City Power. Instead, the utility concentrated on providing service to 129 defense industries. The end of the war did create new demands for service. In 1947 the company interconnected utilities in Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa for the first time, enabling the various companies involved to share reserve capacity. The Hawthorn Station, situated on the Missouri River, was started in 1948, and the first of two units were completed in 1951. Two other units followed and were fully operational by 1955. Kansas City Power became independent in 1950 when its holding company dissolved. The company acquired assets of Eastern Kansas Utilities two years later.

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