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Wisconsin Public Service Corporation - Lehman Brothers Collection

Wisconsin Public Service Corporation

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Wisconsin Public Service traces its origins to Oshkosh Gas Light Company, the successor company to a franchise that had been taken out in 1868 to sell coal gas, which was used for lighting. E.P. Sawyer acquired it in 1883 and reincorporated it under the name Oshkosh Gas Light. In 1885 the company received a franchise to sell electricity in Oshkosh, putting it into direct competition with Oshkosh Electric Light and Power. The two companies merged in 1907.

In 1911 a Milwaukee engineer named Clement Smith joined with his brother-in-law, George Miller, to found Wisconsin Securities Company, with the purpose of operating it as a utilities holding company. They quickly acquired Green Bay Gas and Electric Company, Green Bay Traction Company, and Northern Hydro-Electric Power Company. In 1922 Wisconsin Securities acquired Oshkosh Gas Light, changed its name to Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, and merged it with the other companies that it had acquired. Wisconsin Securities had also founded Peninsula Service Company to supply electricity to Door County in 1920, and it, too, was merged into Wisconsin Public Service.

More mergers and acquisitions followed the creation of Wisconsin Public Service. In 1924 the company bought small electric companies operating in the towns of Brillion, Mishicot, and DePere. The next year it acquired all the assets of Northeastern Power Company, including its subsidiaries Riverview Motor Bus Company; Oslo Power and Light Company; Denmark Power and Light; Green Bay Park Railway Company; Northern Light, Heat, and Power Company of Suring; and Wabeno Lighting Company. At that time, Wisconsin Public Service was also operating public transportation in addition to supplying electricity. From the 1920s through World War II, Wisconsin Public Service operated transportation systems in Green Bay, Wausau, Merrill, Menominee, and Marinette.

After the Northeastern Power acquisition, Wisconsin Public Service was itself acquired by H. M. Byellsby, an electrical engineer who had worked for the Edison and Westinghouse Electric Corporation before going into business himself. Byellsby immediately turned over control of Wisconsin Public Service to Standard Gas and Electric, a public utility holding company that he founded in 1910.

In 1927 Standard Gas and Electric acquired another large electrical utility, Wisconsin Valley Electric Company. Wisconsin Valley Electric operated hydroelectric plants exclusively and ran into trouble in the winter months. In 1933 Standard Gas and Electric decided to merge its two main subsidiaries so that Wisconsin Public Service's steam turbine plants could pick up Wisconsin Valley Electric's wintertime slack.

Wisconsin Public Service's public transportation system saw increases in ridership during World War II due to gas rationing and reduced automobile production. However, wartime shortages also made running bus lines difficult, despite the increases in business. Bus ridership declined after the war, as gas rationing ended and private cars returned to the roads. In 1951 Wisconsin Public Service divested its bus lines in Wausau and Merrill, and they began independent operation under the name Wausau Transit Lines. Wisconsin Public Service also gained independence of a sort in the 1950s; in 1952 Standard Gas and Electric divested its entire stake in the company. Common stock was distributed to Wisconsin Public Service's preferred stockholders. The following year, the company was listed on the Midwest and New York Stock Exchanges for the first time.

In the 1960s natural gas became an increasingly important fuel source, and Wisconsin Public Service responded by expanding its operations in that area. The company had been selling natural gas to its customers since 1950. In 1961 it made a move to control the means of distribution when it acquired two natural gas franchises, Merrill Gas Company and Oneida Gas Company. By 1963 over half of the homes in Wisconsin Public Service's service area were heated with gas, and by the mid-1970s natural gas sales would account for about 30 percent of the company's operating revenues. In 1967 Wisconsin Public Service acquired the electrical distribution system for the municipality of Kewaunee. The company also took its first step into the field of nuclear energy that year when it broke ground on a nuclear plant nine miles south of Kewaunee. The Kewaunee nuclear plant, which did not begin operation until 1974, was built and operated by Wisconsin Public Service, but was in fact a joint venture between three Wisconsin utility companies: Wisconsin Public Service, Wisconsin Power and Light Company, and Madison Gas and Electric Company.

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