Washington Gas

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WGL Holdings, Inc.
Type Public
Traded as NYSEWGL
Industry Utilities
Headquarters Washington, D.C.
Key people James H. DeGraffenreidt, CEO & Chairman
Products Gas Utilities
Website www.wglholdings.com

WGL Holdings, Inc. is a public utility holding company located in the United States that serves customers in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. The company's Washington Gas Light Company subsidiary distributes natural gas to more than one million customers.

WGL Holding's operations include Washington Gas Energy Services, HVAC services, and natural gas exploration, production, and storage.

Early years[edit]

After Washington D.C. was established, many residents complained about the lighting of the city. As the nation's capital, it was surprising that the whole city looked dark at night. How come residents in Washington D.C. still lived in an old-school way: using candles and oil for illumination? During that time, walking or riding on the streets at night was quite difficult, and it was easy to stumble with only dim light. Although the typical Washingtonian's dream was to become a resident of a great metropolis, development in Washington D.C. was far behind other major US cities. An 1874 book, Renovated Capital City, describes the Washingtonian’s strong desire to own a gas company: “Our neighbor, Baltimore, first in railway, telegraph, and locomotives, was also first to establish gas-works in 1816. Boston led several other cities by a fewer months in 1822. New York City was partially lighted in 1825, and by the time of the outbreak of the civil war the gas companies of the Union represented in capital $50,000,000 and 300 companies.” [1]

As a capital, Washington wanted to compete not only with neighboring Baltimore and New York, but also with international economic centers like London, Paris, etc. The standard people set for the city was extremely high, and a local gas company was indispensable in attaining this standard. This led to the formation of the Washington Gas Light Company, which was officially established on July 8, 1848.

James Crutchett and Benjamin B. French played significant roles in the formation of the company. When James Crutchett, who had a passion for gas, moved to this newly built city, he bought a house located to the north of Capitol grounds. He lighted his home using solar gas. The US Congress had ambitions to light up the city. When Crutchett’s home came to its attention, Crutchett was granted 17,500 dollars to light up the Capitol, demonstrating Congress's determination to change the city. Soon construction began. Although Crutchett succeeded in changing the Capitol's look, this by itself was not enough to change the whole city. Benjamin B. French supported Crutchett’s ideas, and was instrumental in forming the new gas company.

Other contributors to the company included: John F. Callan, Jacob Bigelow, William H. English, Michael P. Callan, William H. Harrover, and William A. Bradley. John F. Callan was a druggist and his brother, Michael P. Callan was a clerk in the Post Office. William A. Bradley was the city's postmaster and mayor. William H. Harrover was a hardware merchant. William H. English originally was a Treasury clerk and became a Congressman from Indiana. He later became a Vice-Presidential candidate.[2] As Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives, Benjamin B. French was an influential person, who attracted many important figures to realize local residents’ dream. Two petitions were sent to Congress in April 1848.

With these people’s efforts, the bill was passed eventually. On the tenth street of Foggy Bottom neighborhood, a brand new company was established, and the managers believed that it would definitely bring prosperity to the neighborhood as well as the whole city. One of the archival sources is the Senate's document about Washington Gas Light Company proposed in 1840. It talked about how the company could help local economy grow in the future. For instance, it listed that "fancy and other stores would introduce this light, and thus add to the cheerfulness of the public ways." The establishment of the company definitely would make Foggy Bottom more urbanized and provide more job opportunities in the area.

Development from the 1850s to the 1880s[edit]

Washington Gas Light Company is the first gas company chartered by Congress in the United States, so it is a significant landmark in Foggy Bottom neighborhood as well as Washington history.

George Washington Riggs became the president of the company in 1856. He was very dedicated to his undertaking and was ambitious to expand the company. In 1858, he proposed to build a new gas station known as the West Station Works. It was located between 26th street and G Street. The new station not only benefited the transportation of gas but also improved the efficiency of the operation. During the American Civil War era, the disorder spread to the country including the gas company. Washington Gas Light Company faced a severe economic crisis. “The cost of making gas increased one hundred and twenty-five percent, and another problem appeared when Congress reduced the gas rate seventeen percent.”[3] At that time period, the company was relatively changed in some ways, and it had tendency to move toward a negative direction. However, this experienced and intelligent man successfully overcame the difficulties and put a lot of efforts to make the company stable and possibly expanded it.

In addition, the relationship between the company and Congress was extremely close. Since it provided services to many significant political figures including the president of the United States, day-to-day operations of the company were very crucial. The company faced the problem of the shortage of coal as well as transportation during the Civil War period. Without enough coal, the company could not keep operating well since coal was the main resource of making gas. Therefore, the company sought help from Secretary of War and president Lincoln. Lincoln completely understood that they relied on each other, so he wrote a letter to John W. Garrett who was the president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad requesting to “bring coal to the city and afford the continuation of the necessary gas lighting.”[4] It is hard to imagine that the then-president Lincoln involved in the company’s business and helped them solve the problem. Therefore, it could be seen that the bond between the company and Congress was very tight.

After the Reconstruction Era, the incandescent lamp invented by Thomas Edison was introduced in 1878. It was considered as a big threat to the company. Although difficulties and threats during Civil War and Reconstruction Era tended to bring the company down, managers and government put a lot of efforts to make the company stable.

The Foggy Bottom Gas Light Plant[edit]

The demand for gas in the city of Washington soon exceeded current capacity, and a new plant was constructed in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood in 1858. The plant was located at the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue NW and Virginia Avenue NW. Occupying a strategic site at the head of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, the Foggy Bottom location provided direct access to barges carrying coal from West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Although production levels for gas went down during the Civil War, they soon returned to normal, and in the 1870s several large holding tanks (gasometers) were erected at the Foggy Bottom site. After the Foggy Bottom Plant was finished, the surrounding neighborhood changed significantly. Between 1830 and 1860, the percentage of "skilled laborers" in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood declined from 44% to 23%, while the percentage of "unskilled laborers" had risen to 44%.[5] This demographic shift coincided with the construction of the plant and the industrialization of the neighborhood. In 1891, a large storm allegedly caused one of the gasometers to explode, as was reported by the Washington Post, although the exact cause of this has never been verified.[6] The plant continued to remain in operation until the 1950s, and is credited with helping the neighborhood earn the name "Foggy Bottom." In 1964, the Washington Gas Light company sold development rights for the location, reaching an exclusive deal with a new project called “Watergate.” The deal stipulated that in exchange for building on company land, the new structure would be supplied exclusively by the Washington Gas Light Company.[7] The last building of the Watergate was completed in 1971, and the new complex would soon play host to the eponymous scandal in 1972. Today, there is very little indication that the site was once home to one of Washington's largest industrial complexes, but Washington Gas Light Plant had an immeasurable impact on the neighborhood.

Present day[edit]

There are many traces from the period of the 1850s to the 1880s that are still prevalent in the area where Washington Gas and Light exists today. More specifically, remnants from the Civil War era still exist. For example, during the Civil War era, the bridge of water that separates Georgetown and Foggy Bottom is still present near Rock Creek. On the other hand, the surrounding area in today's time has many more buildings for commercial use, including hotels, and not as many industrial businesses as it had prior to the 1880s. The company itself has made multiple transformations since their early years. These transformations include gas and electric lamps that can now be seen on various blocks in the Georgetown area of Washington, DC. In addition, there are street lamps on the main streets near Virginia and New Hampshire Avenues and even past Foggy Bottom. Gas furnaces began to appear after the period of 1850 to 1880 in 1915 and are still in use today.[8] Aside from these advances within the company, in 1947, the industry expanded and earned significant gains with 22 million customers.[9] The company is still growing with new manufacturing techniques and resources utilizing natural gas that are distributed nationally. [10]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Townsend, George Alfred (1874). New Washington, or, The Renovated Capital City. Washington DC: Chronicle Pub. 
  2. ^ ..., p. 24-25
  3. ^ Hershman, Robert (1948). Growing with Washington. Washington: Washington Gas Light Company. p. 46. 
  4. ^ Hershman, Robert (1948). Growing with Washington. Washington DC: Washington Gas Light Company. p. 47. 
  5. ^ Sherwood, Suzanne (1978). Foggy Bottom 1800-1975: A Study in the Uses of an Urban Neighborhood. Washington DC: George Washington University. 
  6. ^ "DEATH IN THE TORNADO: Fatal Collapse of the New Metzerott Music Hall". Washington Post. November 24, 1891. 
  7. ^ "Watergate, Gas Co. Sign Unusual Pact". Washington Post. September 9, 1964. 
  8. ^ Hershman, Robert (1948). Growing with Washington. Washington: Washington Gas Light Company. p. 79. 
  9. ^ Hershman, Robert (1948). Growing with Washington. Washington: Washington Gas Light Company. p. 80. 
  10. ^ Hershman, Robert (1948). Growing with Washington. Washington: Washington Gas Light Company. p. 81. 

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