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Cartwright, Carol Lohry; Shaffer, Scott; Waller, Randal / City on the Rock River : chapters in Janesville's history
(1998)

5. Commerce,   pp. 95-117


Page 112

their control of the company. The gas company flourished in Janesville well into the twentieth
century. Gas lighting was on the wane in the early twentieth century, but the company
promoted the use of gas for cooking-a successful campagin that extended the life of the
company. (Wisconsin Power and Light Company, RCHS files)
In 1926, the Middle West Utilities company purchased the New Gas Light Company, then
leased it to Wisconsin Power and Light Company. The following year, Wisconsin Power and
Light purchased the Janesville utility and operated it as a subsidiary until it was dissolved in
1936. The gas plant was demolished around 1950. There are no historic resources associated
with the old gas service in Janesville. (Wisconsin Power and Light Company, RCHS files)
Electric Service
Five local businessmen incorporated the Janesville Electric Company in September 1882 and
contracted with the United States Electric Company to get electric service started in the city.
The United States Electric Company manufactured lighting equipment under a patent held by
inventor Edward Weston. The company supplied the generating equipment, installed the
wiring, and hooked up 10 arc lights in a number of stores in downtown Janesville. On December
7, 1882, the lights came on for the first time. Power to operate the generator was supplied by a
steam engine in the Janesville Machine Company's factory. (Wisconsin Power and Light
Company, RCHS files)
This electric service lasted only six months because service was poor and costly. In March 1885,
the Thomson-Houston Company of Lynn, Massachusetts, built a waterpowered lighting plant
(not extant) along the upper race. In 1891, local businessman Pliny Norcross took over this plant
and improved and expanded the electric service. In that same year, H. A. Doty organized the
competing Doty Light and Power Company. In 1899, Norcross acquired the Doty Light and
Power Company and, with his Janesville plant and an electric light plant he owned in Fulton,
Wisconsin, formed the Janesville Electric Company. In 1902, a group of Janesville businessmen
led by M. G. Jeffris, purchased Norcross's company. (Wisconsin Power and Light Company,
RCHS files; Brown 1908:570; McDonald 1957:236-237)
The new owners of the Janesville Electric Company quickly expanded and modernized electric
service in the city. They purchased the buildings and waterpower rights of several businesses
on the upper race and constructed a small hydroelectric plant (not extant) along the lower race
near the old cotton factory. They built another hydroelectric plant, the Central plant, around
1915 near the west end of the upper dam. Part of this plant is extant. The company also
supplemented its waterpower with steam power. (Brown 1908:570-571; Sanborn-Perris Maps;
Wisconsin Power and Light Company, RCHS files)
When the Samson Tractor Division of General Motors constructed its new plant in Janesville in
1919, the electric company was faced with the challenge of providing electric power to a large
factory. The management of Samson Tractor Division contracted with the Wisconsin River
Power Company to supply power to the factory from its plant in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin. This
power supply was also made available to the Janesville Electric Company. (Wisconsin Power
and Light Company, RCHS files; Sanbom-Perris Maps)
In 1924, the Wisconsin Power and Light Company acquired the Janesville Electric Company;
service from this company has continued to the present time. In 1926, the Wisconsin Power and
Light Company erected a new building at 30 W. Milwaukee St. This building was demolished
in 1970, when the company constructed a new building at 17 S. River St. There are no other
extant historic resources associated with early electric service in the city that have retained
their historic integrity. (City Directories)
Commerce
112


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