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Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ), General Motors Company (GM) – Muscle Cars and Electric Power: A Day of American Firsts

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On this day in economic and business history …

Thomas Edison is more closely linked to the development and spread of electricity through the world than any other person — with the possible exception of Nikola Tesla. However, neither Edison nor Tesla had a hand in the first utility-scale distribution of electric power. That honor goes to George Roe, a forgotten pioneer who created the world’s first electric utility in northern California. Archie Green, writing for the Fund for Labor Culture and History, offers this enlightening background on the company’s origins:

On June 30, 1879, George Roe, a Canadian broker living in San Francisco, incorporated the California Electric Light Company. In September, the visionary firm produced and transmitted electricity for commercial sale to 21 privately owned arc lamps from the first central power station in the world. The primitive plant — actually a shed of four-by-four timber uprights and walls of sheet iron — enclosed a steam engine and boiler, a huge coal pile, and two small dynamos (patented April 24, 1877 by engineer Charles Brush for Cleveland’s Telegraph Supply Company). …

The CELC’s wood-frame shanty with a coal-fired steam boiler did not survive a year. On April 24, 1880, when it succumbed to fire, its employees equipped a new plant at 117 O’Farrell Street. Demand for electricity expanded as incandescent lamps replaced arc lights. Accordingly, the CELC moved to 220 Jessie Street where it built a plain brick building.

The CELC grew throughout the 19th century, but it was nearly destroyed by the catastrophic earthquake that struck San Francisco in 1906. It became part of Pacific Gas and Electric shortly after the city rebuilt. Today, PG&E (NYSE:PCG) is not only the largest public utility company in the United States, but it’s also continued the legacy of the CELC as one of the world’s most innovative utilities. It was the first utility in the United States to operate a nuclear power plant, and it currently commands by far the largest solar-energy capacity of any utility in the country.

Two great telecoms, better together

Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ)
Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) was created on June 30, 2000,  with the merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE. The Verizon name had already been in use for nearly three months as a result of Bell Atlantic’s wireless partnership with Vodafone Group Plc (ADR) (NASDAQ:VOD). This partnership, Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) Wireless, got a major boost with the merger, which added GTE’s significant mobile subscriber assets to what immediately became the largest mobile carrier in the United States. Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) itself was also quite a force to be reckoned with, as the two telecoms combined for $57 billion in annual revenue for the 1999 fiscal year. Between them, they served 77 million wired phone lines.

Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) became the 10th-largest company in the United States  by revenue on the Fortune 500 rankings for 2001, its first full year of operation. It did far better on profits, placing fourth, ahead of every single tech company that had been so red-hot the year before. However, the telecom leader had slipped to 16th on the list by its 10th full year. Its profitability  has also been in a slow but steady long-term decline, and by 2011 Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ)’s net income was weaker than that of many companies with less revenue. However, its stake in Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) Wireless, the largest mobile carrier in the United States, as well as its substantial fixed-line and broadband connection assets, easily justify Verizon’s place on the Dow Jones Industrial Average 2 Minute (INDEXDJX:.DJI). Connectivity is a foundation of American industry these days, after all.

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