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75 Years of PUD Public Power

The 1960s – Expanding in Our Communities

If the PUD spent the 1950s building its core business in downtown Everett, it spent the next decade expanding.

Click here to see PUD trucks of the 1960s

Receptionist with 1960s beehive hairdo answers calls at the PUD Lynnwood office in 1968.
Answering phones at the Lynnwood office, 1968

To better engage with customers, the PUD began building offices across its service territory. It started with an office in Arlington opening in 1959, and continued into the 1960s, with offices in Stanwood (1960), Monroe (1961), Snohomish (1965) and Lynnwood (1968). Customers visited these offices to pay bills, talk with customer service representatives and have questions answered by PUD experts.

PUD service territory system map of 1962
The PUD electrical system, 1962 (click to enlarge)

The PUD was also instrumental in helping the region grow. PUD engineers worked to ensure that significant buildings like the Boeing production plant, Weyerhaeuser Paper Mill, and Snohomish County Courthouse were built in the most energy-efficient way. The PUD also advised on reconstruction after a fire on the Everett waterfront damaged buildings in 1961.

Click here to see communities through the lens of the PUD 1965 Annual Report

Sultan River Project Culmback Dam signage from the 1960Early in the decade, one of the PUD’s largest undertakings ever began with construction on our Sultan River Project. Phase 1 involved building Culmback Dam to a height of 200 feet to form Spada Lake, which was completed in 1965. Along with creating an independent way to produce electricity, the project sought to provide an ample water supply to Snohomish County. The dam remains co-owned by the PUD and City of Everett.

This decade of expansion wasn’t without rebuilding. The Columbus Day Windstorm in October 1962 wreaked havoc in the Northwest, including the PUD’s service territory. The storm caused about $250,000 in damage to PUD facilities and equipment – roughly $2.5 million in today’s dollars.

Huge tree limbs rest across a road as the result of the 1962 Columbus Day storm

The 1950s – Building our New Home

Exterior of the PUD Service building in the 1950s shows cars and line trucks neatly parked
The PUD service building after completion
The electric building under construction in 1954
PUD service building under construction, 1954

With the PUD established and providing affordable power to Snohomish County and Camano Island, it was quickly clear that upgrades and infrastructure improvements were needed to serve a growing customer base.

Our first service shop was completed in 1955 in downtown Everett. It featured a store room, garage and transformer repair shop, and parking for line trucks.

Speaking of line trucks, when the electric properties were purchased in 1949, there were 44 cars and trucks and nine trailers in service. By the end of the decade, those vehicles were replaced and the PUD boasted a pool of 78 cars and trucks and 13 trailers – plus five cars and trucks for the Water Department. Two hydraulic lifts were also in operation and utilized primarily for tree trimming.

During a 1955 Open House, Meter Supervisor Arnold Nelson explains meter to boy scouts
PUD service building community open house, 1955

But we weren’t done there! Three years later, our company headquarters was completed right alongside the service shop. The inaugural Electric Building, located where it currently sits at the corner of California Street and Virginia Avenue, opened to help us serve the public. The 35,000-square foot building cost $19 per square foot to build. It was only two stories tall at the time, but was built so that it could accommodate future expansion down the road.

A photo of the electric building lobby interior from 1958

From the archives: view your PUD’s first-decade accomplishments

The PUD’s Origins – 1930s & 40s

A map of the electrical distribution system 1932
Rural distribution system map (1932)

In the early 1900s, a new idea was sweeping across the Pacific Northwest: public power. While electricity had long been supplied by private companies and seen as a privilege for the wealthy, many felt electricity was an essential part of daily life and a fundamental right. Agriculture workers and small towns argued they needed it to drive economic growth. But rather than become a financial opportunity, they believed electricity should be regarded as a public service, like roads, schools or parks, and that electric companies should be owned by the public and provide their product at-cost.

A very boxy electrical service truck from 1936
Line truck (1936)

Following the growing public power movement across much of the state, Snohomish County Public Utility District No. 1 was created by a vote of the people on Nov. 3, 1936. However, it took a few years for the PUD to get some infrastructure set up, as well as raise enough money to purchase the region’s electrical distribution system.

Th­e PUD began operations as a water utility in the Lake Stevens area in 1946. ­Three years later, on September 1, 1949, the PUD purchased the electrical distribution system for Snohomish County and Camano Island from Puget Sound Power & Light Company. ­The price? $16 million, which was raised through the sale of electric revenue bonds. That would be over $206 million in today’s dollars.

Public power in Snohomish County and Camano Island was born!

A 1930s electrical truck working on power lines in a brick alley
Alley Construction, Everett (1934)
Huge logs litter a road surrounding a 1930s vehicle deep in the woods
Damage from a windstorm (October, 1934)
A framework of metal, cables in electrical equipment making up a 1930s substation in Monroe, WA
Substation in Monroe (1934)
An unpaved road with 1920s-30s vehicles and charming buildings
Snohomish Business District (1936)
Workers repairing a downed power line in 1936
Downed power lines (1936)

Watch for fresh historical photos and information monthly!