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Hartford Electric Light Company Records

Identifier: 1996-0010

Scope and Content Note

The records consist of writings about the history of the Hartford Electric Light Company, correspondence, newspaper and magazine clippings, reports, notes, maps, photographs, contracts, publications and financial records.

The strongest component of the records is various histories about the company, with the research files to support them, which include newspaper clippings, correspondence and reports. These histories were generally written between the 1920s and the 1950s. Other histories include those of various departments of the company, including Accounting, Distribution, Executive, Personnel, Production, Public Relations, Purchasing, and Sales.

The records include extensive information on the company's relationship and mergers with the Connecticut Power Company and the Farmington River Power Company. Many files provide historical information about the generating stations at Pearl Street in Hartford, South Meadow, the Tariffville dam and power house on the Farmington River, and others, including substations. Other information includes the company's response to electrical needs of the region and the country during World War II and the various catastrophic weather events that affected its infrastructure, including the Hartford Flood of 1936, the Hurricane of 1938 and the Flood of 1955.

The collection provides electrical data information, specifically about capacity, kilowatt hours generated and purchased, sales by classes and power exchanges.

There are several hundred photographs in the collection, many taken during the weather disasters and of the generating stations and substations. Other photographs show leaders of the company through the years and scenes of workers, some in which they are playing team sports or at parties. The workers in the photographs are almost always unidentified.

The only personnel information that is available is exclusively about upper-level administrators, including presidents, vice-presidents and chairmen of the board. There are no personnel or worker files for other company workers.


  • 1876-1973


The collection is open and available for research.

Restrictions on Use and Copyright Information

Permission to publish from these Papers must be obtained in writing from both the University of Connecticut Libraries and the owner(s) of the copyright.


The Hartford Electric Light Company received its charter from the Connecticut General Assembly in 1881 and began service in 1882 to provide electricity for the city of Hartford, Connecticut. The company's board of directors elected Austin Cornelius Dunham as president. The company's first initiative, in 1883, was to install arc lighting to the Asylum Street railroad station; by 1900 Hartford was the first city in New England with an all-electric streetlighting system.

The company, better known as HELCO, was soon known as an innovator in the generation and distribution of electricity and was the first to make practical applications of several important new developments that were destined eventually to become the industry's standard practices.

HELCO was the first public utility in the United States to transmit three-phase alternating current at high voltage for any considerable distance. In 1893 the company transmitted three-phase alternating current at between 4000 and 5000 volts from the Rainbow Hydroelectric Station in Windsor, Connecticut, on the Farmington River, to its Pearl Street station in Hartford, where its steam power plant was located at that time.

In 1896 the company was the first to use a storage battery in connection with a hydraulic plant, making it possible to supply the peak load requirements from water power that would otherwise have gone to waste during periods of relatively small demand.

The company was the first public utility in the United States to use steam turbines to drive its generators. The first turbine, nicknamed "Mary Ann" and weighing 91,700 pounds, was installed in the company's 266 Pearl Street generating station in Hartford in April 1901. It was a Westinghouse - Parsons type turbine manufactured by the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with a turbo-generator capacity at 1500 kilowatts. Considered obsolete by 1908 it was relocated to the company's Dutch Point location.

By 1908 President Dunham invented an electric range complete with broiler, cooker, and roaster. The company marketed the range for the use of its customer and soon 20,000 ranges were installed in homes in the Hartford area. Dunham also received patents for his inventions of a radiator with an electrical unit, a device to heat water, and an ice-making machine and by the mid-1910s these electrical appliances were commonplace in Hartford households.

HELCO built a dam and powerhouse at Tariffville, Connecticut, in the town of Simsbury, on the Farmington River, in 1899. It had two pairs of 1300 horsepower water wheels connected to two 750 kilowatt Westinghouse generators. The company again scored a first when they used aluminum for the conductors in the transmission line. The Tariffville dam and powerhouse were destroyed in the Flood of 1955.

In 1915 HELCO and the Connecticut Power Company, which served New London, Middletown and northwestern Connecticut with generating stations at Falls Village (a hydro-electric station on the Housatonic River) and Canaan, entered into a power exchange agreement where they would work cooperatively to supply power to each others' customers. Samuel Ferguson, who served as president and/or chairman of HELCO from 1924 to 1946, arranged to acquire common stock in the Connecticut Power Company and the companies consolidated their engineering, purchasing and construction operations.

A power station was built in 1921 at South Meadows in Hartford, which became the site of another first when, in 1928, the company installed one of the first commercial mercury cycle generating units in the world (this was soon discontinued due to improvements in conventional steam turbines).

In 1900 HELCO had 3200 customers. By 1950 that number was up to 89,000, in a 245 square mile area of Greater Hartford.

In 1958 HELCO merged with the Connecticut Power Company, and in 1982 the company formally merged into Connecticut Light & Power.


40.25 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Electric company of Hartford, Connecticut, established in 1882. Records consist of writings about the history of the company, correspondence, contracts, notes, maps, photographs, publications and financial records.

Provenance and Acquisition

The collection was donated by the Connecticut Historical Society in 1996 with a small addition in 2005.

The service buttons in Accession 2015.0010 were donated in January 2015 by Sybil Bartone of Manchester, Connecticut, in honor of her father, Francis J. McCarthy, a 50-year HELCO employee.

The scrapbook of Accession 2017.0048 was donated by R.H. Warriner of Vernon, Vermont, in April 2017. He is a descendent of Judson Buel Root, whose name is imprinted on the volume's cover.

Location of Copies or Alternate Formats

Digital reproductions of materials in this collection may also be found in the Archives & Special Collections digital repository

Related Material

Archives & Special Collections has a substantial collection of materials pertaining to the history of Connecticut businesses. For detailed information on these collections please contact the curator or ask at the Reading Room desk.

Hartford Electric Light Company Records
Archives & Special Collections staff
2013 December
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Archives and Special Collections, University of Connecticut Library Repository

University of Connecticut Library
405 Babbidge Road Unit 1205
Storrs Connecticut 06269-1205 USA US