The History of RMEL: 113 Years of Service
By the turn of the 20th century, a period of great progress was taking place in the electrical arena. Scientists and inventors had demonstrated the development of something which held great promise for improving the lot of mankind. As time progressed, technical advances in generation, transmission and distribution of electricity developed so rapidly that it became necessary to communicate and interpret the benefits of this marvelous discovery.
Since many revolutionary electrical developments had occurred in the Rocky Mountain region, it was natural that the need for an informational organization was recognized early.
In August 1903, the Colorado Electric Light, Power and Railway Association was formed. John F. Vail of the Pueblo and Suburban Traction and Lighting Company was elected as the first president. The initial membership consisted primarily of men representing the state’s utilities, tramway officials, and manufacturing representatives.
Attendees to the first meeting listened to presentations on: “Single Phase Motors as a means of Increasing Central Station Earnings, ”Steam Economics,” “Best Methods for Lighting Cities,” “Placing Wire Underground,” “Fuel Economics, ”Hints on Advertising,” and “Meters.” The meeting was held in the lecture room of the Denver Gas & Electric Company.
Through the years, RMEL’s growth as an association has paralleled the growth of the electric industry. In the beginning, the association was closely linked with the urban railway’s that were in many Colorado cities. The horses that originally pulled the passenger cars finally got a rest when the electric trolley took over.
The building that housed the generation plant powering the trolleys around Denver is still in existence. It is located on the west side of the South Platte River near the confluence of Cherry Creek. This confluence is where gold was discovered and brought thousands of people to Denver. The building has been used for different purposes through the years most recently as Forney’s Railroad Transportation museum. Around 2000 the building was purchased by Recreation Equipment, Inc. (REI). The building was completely renovated to its original glory and serves as the company’s Denver flagship store.
One of the original car barns also still exists and is located across the street from the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and is directly behind the Hotel Teatro. This former car barn is now used for the creation of theater stage sets, costumes and so forth.
Although history is not completely clear, it seems in 1909, the Colorado Electric Light, Power and Railway Association changed its name to the Colorado Electric Club. One of its first activities was an electric show, held in the fall of 1910. It was the first show of its kind west of the Mississippi.
The biggest attraction was a radio set, or “wireless” receiver. Hundreds of visitors trekked from first floor where the transmitter was placed to the basement where a receiver blaring forth raspy music had been hidden in a wicker basket. It was the first time for many Denverites to witness the wireless transmission of sound.
Other exhibits included Westinghouse motors and heavy equipment; the Nernst and Tantalum lamps, neither of which survived commercially; an arc lamp moved from its location in front of the Oxford Hotel; appliances featured in the sales rooms of the Denver Gas & Electric Company; floor and table lamps furnished by the Sechrist Electric Company; and heavy-duty scales from the Mine & Smelter Supply Company. Practically all of the Denver Area electrical industry participated.
In 1916, the Colorado Electric Club membership had soared to 1026 individuals, due to interesting weekly luncheons that featured prominent speakers from all fields, and the popularity of the social and business functions.
The annual Christmas Lighting Contest was begun during this time. Christmas lighting originated in Denver in 1914 when David Sturgeon, son of David D. Sturgeon, then head of Sturgeon Electric Company, lay ill in his home. While his father was putting lights on a Christmas tree in his room, young David, who from his bed could see an evergreen tree in the front yard, said, “Daddy, if you could put some lights on that tree outside, it would look wonderful!” The father granted his son’s request, thus creating the first electrically decorated live evergreen tree anywhere in the world. Neighbors followed suit and the tradition was established. In 1918 the annual Christmas Lighting Contest was established; co-sponsored by The Denver Post and the Denver Junior Chamber of Commerce.
The make-up of the Colorado Electric Club had grown and now only one-third of the membership was connected with the electrical industry. In 1921, the Colorado Electric Club was transformed into the Electrical Cooperative League of Colorado to become a pure electrical association with membership from only the electrical industry. In 1925 the name was shortened to the Electrical League of Colorado. It was first headed by T.O. Kennedy of the Denver Gas and Electric Company. Sidney Bishop was appointed Executive Manager. The Electrical League of Colorado had four divisions of membership: Contractors, Manufacturers, Distributors and Utilities.
The big task of educating the electrical industry and the public about proper and sufficient wiring was undertaken in 1925 through the Red Seal Plan. To get all homes wired properly was the program’s aim and increased installation of outlets was stressed. Many model electric homes were sponsored by the Electrical League of Colorado. The first home to be shown to the public in Denver was visited by 5,317 adults. Many features of the Red Seal Plan were embodied in the National Adequate Wiring Program and pioneered in the Rocky Mountain region.
In 1930, the Rocky Mountain Electrical Association began as part of the National Electric Light Association. G. E. Lewis was the managing director.
The Larry Cargo Annual Golf Tournament was started in 1931 at which time Mr. Cargo donated the original cup. Succeeding this was the annual Ross Adams Golf Tournament held at one of the country clubs in Denver. Approximately 100 attended this event, followed by an awards banquet. With this, the tradition of golf as a part of RMEL activities was entrenched.
Finally, on April 1, 1937, these two groups – the Electrical League of Colorado and the Rocky Mountain Electrical Association - merged and incorporated as the Rocky Mountain Electrical League. Guy W. Faller, Public Service Company of Colorado, served as the first President. Heading staff operations was George E. Lewis. The merger was accomplished for the purpose of better dissemination of information, as well as, developing greater friendship and usefulness within the industry. RMEL had 13 local “chapters”.
In the early years, the League received several national awards and citations for “meritorious achievement” and was widely recognized as a pacesetter for forward-looking electrical industry activities.
Already at this point in RMEL’s history, hundreds of the most able executives and electrical industry representatives had given unselfishly of their time to further the objectives of the League and its predecessor organizations. Their efforts had brought innovations in merchandising, engineering and managerial practices. The belief that teamwork and intelligent planning would conquer any problem had paid off big dividends to the industry, League members and the customer.
In 1937, the first RMEL Fall Convention was held at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. The 1938 RMEL budget was $17,420.00
In the 1940’s, RMEL entered into promotion programs encouraging the public to use more electricity by purchasing and using electric appliances. Washing machines, dishwashers, electric cooking ranges, air conditioners, freezers, refrigerator-freezer combinations and electric dryers were some of the appliances promoted.
At least four campaigns were held annually from the late 1940s to the late 1960s to promote major electrical appliances. The League’s utility members coordinated efforts with distributors and dealers. Entire sections of newspapers were given over to the promotion, in accordance with plans perfected at League headquarters in Denver. A dozen radio stations added their influence, along with the wide use of billboards.
During the WWII years, the Fall Convention was suspended, RMEL bought $3,000 of Defense Bonds, cooperated with the Civilian Defense Council and entered into plans to conserve and divert energy usage to defense efforts.
After the war, Labor Relations were on the front burner. Labor Relations were crucial as men returned from the war and industry ramped up. In 1945, the 40-hour workweek was becoming the standard. Linemen were making $1.54 per hour.
In 1945, Ralph Hubbard became manager of RMEL. During his tenure the League expanded into New Mexico and South Dakota.
In 1947, RMEL allocated $28,000 of its budget to the “Go All Electric Program.” That year J.A. Bullock, Western Colorado Power Company was President, There were four Vice-Presidents from Mountain States Power Company, Public Service Company of Colorado, Public Service Company of New Mexico and General Electric Supply Company.
Recognizing that the sale of any electrical merchandise necessitated service, RMEL became heavily involved in appliance training programs for service technicians. The RMEL Appliance Service Training Program thus began in 1948.
In 1949, the Spring Conference attendance was growing to the point that it now rivaled the Fall Convention, The 1950 Spring Conference was held in Denver. The registration fee was $12.00
The Electric Meter Institute, an annual five-day training program, was re-established in 1950 and was held at the University of Denver in cooperation with RMEL. Prior to WWII it had been held at the University of Colorado at Boulder. It featured up to the minute developments on electric meters, their operation, maintenance and replacement. Material was presented as requested by supervisors of meter departments and others interested in the measurement of electric power. The 1950 school had 80 students.
In 1953, Guy Faller passed away. He was the first President of RMEL following the reorganization in 1937.
In cooperation with the National Electrical Manufacturers Association and the Edison Electric Institute, committee members pooled resources to develop the use of major electrical appliances in rural areas of the region. An annual calendar was published, scheduling promotions for an appropriate time of the year. These included: Modern Laundry, Dishwashers, Freezers, Television and Stereo, Air Conditioning, Light for Living, Operation Snowflake, Medallion Homes, Housepower and Electrical Heating.
The Appliance Service Program was nationally recognized in the 1960’s. Appliance Training clinics were held in nine Colorado cities and Cheyenne, WY.
In 1957 a program was started to provide literature to high school students to interest them in engineering.
The summer picnic was an annual event co-sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the National Electrical Contractor’s Association and held at Elitch Gardens. Manufacturers, distributors, contractors and local dealers contributed a large number of prizes that were distributed through two prize drawings. Attendance usually exceeded 4,000 persons including members and their families.
In 1960, Ralph Hubbard retired and B.P. Montagriff became manager of RMEL.
In 1962, a contest was held to re-name the Electri-News Bulletin. The winning name was RMEL News. This became the name that remains today.
Monthly luncheons were held the third Monday of each month, October through May. Outstanding speakers addressed the group on subjects directly and indirectly related to the industry. Monthly luncheons continued through the 1980’s. Heavy business time demands and changing styles doomed the luncheons
In 1967, B.P. Montagriff retired and W.J Rosol became Secretary-Manager
The Appliance Service Training Program continued in 1970 and a slide presentation was developed on careers in appliance service for high school students. The program was available for “Career Days’ in high schools, for presentation at civic clubs or any other program to interest young people. Engineering students and professors were invited to the Spring Conference
The Honorary Life Membership Program began in 1971 replacing the practice of presenting certificates. Honorary membership in the League is conferred upon individuals, at least 55 years of age, retired from their companies. Individuals recognized shall be a person acknowledged in the electrical field, or one recognized for cooperative endeavor within the electrical industry or for long and valuable service to the League. It was decided that an honorary member shall have all the privileges of League membership except that of holding office and shall be exempt from the payment of dues.
When U.S. President Nixon issued a request for energy conservation on the part of government agencies and industry, the Christmas lighting Program was not held in 1973. In 1974, an RMEL committee recommended and the Board approved no promotion of Christmas lighting.
In 1974 an Architects and Engineers Seminar was held with 275 in attendance.
In 1977 a conference was held to promote the Energy and Man’s Environment program to school district administrators and educators. The program brought to the classroom – kindergarten through grade 12 – energy related issues presented in an objective and accurate manner. Wyoming had been in the program for several years and Colorado was the seventh state to participate.
In 1983 the Architects and Engineers Seminar went on the road giving programs in Rapid City, SD; Casper, WY; El Paso, TX and Denver, CO. The program centered around Energy Management Systems.
Also in 1983, the Production Committee was established; now called the Generation Interest Section. The Distribution Committee was already in existence, having started as the Underground committee. Engineering school grants for special projects were established instead of scholarships.
In 1986 a four-day Power Engineering Course was held with 44 participants.
Generation and Transmission Companies and Rural Electric Associations were approved as a membership category in 1988 and a Transmission Committee (now called the Transmission & Substation Interest Section) was established that same year.
The first Power Quality Seminar was held in Rapid City, SD in May 1989 with 35 in attendance. Independent Power Producers were approved as a membership category in 1990. In 1993, RMEL moved its offices to its present location at 2170 S. Parker Road, Suite 285, Denver, CO. Because of the changes in the relationships utilities had with their commercial and residential customers, it was determined the Architects and Engineers Seminar had served its purpose and was discontinued.
A new membership category of End User was established in 1994. Also in 1994, the Materials Management program was established with the Colorado Power Council. The first Materials Management Seminar was held in 1995 with 50 in attendance
At the end of 1996, Bill Rosol retired and Ed Blum became Executive Director.
In 1997, the Colorado Electric Service network dissolved and became a part or RMEL. 160 companies were members of RMEL, 37 were utilities. RMEL grew in individual employee memberships as Public Service Company of Colorado merged with Southwestern Public Service to form New Century Energies and then again merged with Northern States Power to form Xcel Energy. RMEL’s web site went on-line at www.rmel.org. The Safety & Health Interest Section was established that year.
In 1998, the Colorado Power Council merged with RMEL. The Customer Strategies Interest Section was established. A group credit card processing plan was rolled out to members at discounted fees. Credit cards were accepted as payment for registrations.
In 1999, RMEL elected its first woman president, Jill Tietjen, University of Colorado at Boulder. The RMEL Foundation was incorporated for the purpose of awarding scholarships to deserving and qualified students in engineering or other curriculum related to the utility industry. The underlying goal of the scholarship program was to encourage students to enter the electric energy industry. The Distinguished Leadership Award was created to honor, as merited, an individual who has demonstrated singular dedication, service, and leadership to the electric utility industry. The person must be active in the field at the time of the award. Electric Energy Magazine began publication. Fall Convention broke the modern day attendance record. 217 companies are members of RMEL.
In 2000, a Silent Auction was held at Fall Convention. It has become a traditional annual event raising significant income for scholarships. The RMEL database, grew to 10,000 records and was integrated with www.rmel.org. Event registrations were taken online. The Utility Attendance Rewards program began. Membership growth continued, as 225 companies are members of RMEL; 74 are utilities – a 100% growth since 1997.
RMEL’s development has shown that one of its strengths is diversity. RMEL is diverse in utility ownership, geography and services. Public power, municipals, and cooperatives as well as investor owned electric energy companies are forging the new utility economy together. RMEL is geographically diverse doing business in the Western and Midwestern United States and elsewhere – no longer just the traditional Rocky Mountain states.
In 2001, the RMEL Champions program was enhanced to provide more promotional opportunities to the companies that go the “extra mile” to support RMEL and its programs. League Advocates were added for each company as the second-go-to-person. A Vital Issues Forum was held at Fall Convention.
In 2011, RMEL Sections and Section Education Committees were formalized for Safety, Generation, Transmission, Distribution and Management (changed to Vital Issues in 2016).