Tuesday, February 10, 2009


The National Electric Light Association (N.E.L.A.) was founded in 1885 by Franklin Silas Terry, G.S. Bowen and Charles A. Brown. It was a trade association for power plants. Early in the last century electricity was not a standard utility it like radio, was a novelty. This was before Roosevelt's rural electrification program. Power companies were then selling a luxury service and thus actually had to advertise. The organized and published a quarterly bulletin. The issue from 1910 I link there actually fixates on "growing competition from gasoline powered lighting." Anyway distractions aside they were advertising, and marketing. They held an annual convention moving the city each year. the time line here is sketchy as references produce an anomaly. Their 36th annual convention was in Chicago in 1913, it's 9th convention was in 1889. If the first date is right the 9th should have been in 1886, if the second is right the Association began conventions five years before it was founded... The book "A Chronological History of Electrical Development" at least affirms the first date.
"1885 - The first convention of the National Electric Light Association is held in Chicago, November 25. At this time there are six hundred lighting companies in the United States."
NBC was only formed in 1926 which eliminates their 38th convention purportedly in June of 1915. Since it can be no earlier than 1926 then it must be their 41st convention or later. A reference in the August 1930 issue of N.R.I. National radio news leads me to prefer their 53rd convention on June 19th of that year. [ASIN: B00086AMOU]

But the radio tale is as follows: They planned a huge broadcast. As a task of engineering it was just a massive undertaking. Six different speakers would be broadcast and carried on multiple stations from six different locations to address the World's Power Conference in Berlin and the National Electric Light Association Convention in San Francisco simultaneously. It was carried on WJZ and WEAF. A set of five shortwave stations relayed it to the world: W3XAL Bound Brook, NJ; W2XK and W2XAD, Schenectady NY; W8XK, Pittsburgh, PA.; and W6XN, Oakland, California. More here.

The network was planned and engineered by the AT&T working with NBC in cooperation with various foreign communications groups. On the list of speakers were: Thomas A. Edison at his library in West Orange, NJ; Lord Derby, at Camberley, England; Guglielmo Marconi, from London; Owen D. Young, chairman of the Board of General Electric and Mathew Sloan, President of NELA, from the convention in San Francisco; and Dr. Karl Koettgen and Dr. Oskar Von Miller, from Berlin. That's the east coast, west coast, UK, and Germany. Even today this would be difficult.

NELA was disbanded in 1933. Congress had taken notice of some of NELA's activities that were less benign than broadcasting such as embezzling, fraud, and rate fixing. Despite Federal posturing NELA failed to purge and regulate itself. The Edison Electric Institute was formed and most power companies joined the new organization and promised to adhere to it's stricter rules, and more open policies.

*Their logo vexes me "C=E÷R." Typically C is capacitance, E is volts and R is resistance. But the equation to derive Capacitance is normally expressed as C= Q÷V. Their equation is just wrong. It should be C (electrical potential) = Q (magnitude of charge ) ÷ V (applied voltage.)