Jan 02

Now you’re cookin’ with gas

San Luis Gas & Electric Ad May 14, 1907

San Luis Gas & Electric Ad May 14, 1907

May 14, 1907

A little over 100 years ago gas companies were in a bad way. Electricity was proving to be an effective competitor for street lighting franchises and home owners were making the same choice. Why send out lamp lighting staffs to light in the street lamps every evening and shut the valves in the morning when an electric lamp would do the job with the flick of a switch?
Gas companies had to find a new use for their product or become extinct. Furnaces and water heaters had not been perfected but if they could only convince homemakers that a gas stove was better than a wood stove the gas franchise just might survive. Advertising campaigns were underway throughout the state similar to this one.
This advertisement from 1907 shows a happy homemaker filling the house with cakes and other delicacies. The copy reads:

may be made hot first, cool afterward with the cook cool all the time if you use a gas range and our gas service. Why multiply words when a call here, or a call by our representative at your home, will result in your getting all the facts in the case? Use gas, keep cool, and be happy!
S.L. Gas & Electric Co
968 Monterey Street

Another ad from Feb. 25, 1905:

Gas Ranges $10 and up, “cash or on time. We connect it free. All you have to do is light a match.” San Luis Gas and Electric Co., 986 Monterey St.

I recall working with long time reporter Dorie Bentley on a story about a Nipomo woman who used a wood stove to cook in the 1980′s. She liked the way the stove worked but it took experience to know how to set the vents, start the fire and keep it going for the time needed to bake a loaf of bread. The kitchen got very hot as the stove radiated heat from all sides. If I run across that story I’ll post it in the future.

The gas and electric companies combined in San Luis Obispo in 1903 as noted in the June 3, edition of The Morning Tribune. It would later become one of the over 500 companies absorbed by Pacific Gas and Electric.

The formal reorganization of the gas and electric light company was effected yesterday and new articles of incorporation are ready for filing.
The San Luis Gas company and the San Luis Thompson-Houston Electric Light company now become the San Luis Gas and Electric company.

On the same page Cal Poly approved their own electric power plant. Until the idea of a single publicly regulated utility became popular, competing power companies popped up everywhere duplicating administration costs. First classes were held in October 1903.

Trustees Locate Power House
A meeting of the California School trustees was held Monday afternoon at the Hotel Ramona at which were trustees Hihn, John and Shackelford and Director Leroy Anderson. About the only business accomplished was to determine upon the location of the light and power house which it was decided will be built about 350 feet north of the recitation building.

I am still researching when the first power utility was founded in the area. Post a comment if you know.
Gas companies were founded earlier than electric companies. The oldest power component of PG&E came to life only three years after the ’49ers swarmed the gold fields. In 1850 San Francisco Gas Co. was founded and within two years the first lamps were lit. The high water mark for gas lamps in The City came in 1915 with 8,483 street lights, all hand lit and shut off each day. Fifteen years later the last San Francisco gas lamps would be extinguished on December 27, 1930.

By the early 1870′s over 10 California utilities extracted gas out of coal. It was not the natural gas we are familiar with, but a more sooty, lower energy form. Early gas lamps were rated at 17 candle power, later improvements would make the light stronger and more efficient but the days of lighting streets are over.

Some of the details for this post came from the book P•G•and E• The Centennial Story of Pacific Gas and Electric Company 1852•1952 by Charles M. Coleman.

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