Hartford Electric Light Company

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266 Pearl Street in 1983, was the
original HELCO 1902 plant location,
and is now Connecticut Light & Power

The Hartford Electric Light Company (HELCO) is a defunct electrical company that was located on Pearl Street in Hartford, Connecticut. It was merged with the Connecticut Power Company in 1958 and later these became Connecticut Light & Power. It is in the Ann Street Historic District.


The Hartford Electric Light Company,
original Pearl Street plant, circa 1902

The history of the Hartford Electric Light Company (HELCO) begins with the Hartford Steam Company. The steam company built the originally brick building in 1880 (See 'The Hartford Electric Light Company, Pearl Street plant, circa 1902'). The building had about a dozen boilers for producing heat and steam for their customers.[1] The steam company introduced a new technology in 1881, an electric generator. It was Hartford's first electric service.[1]

The Hartford Electric Light Company (HELCO) in 1881 received its charter as an official company and took over the electrical part of Hartford Steam Company. At that time Hartford had about a thousand gaslights in 80 miles of the city streets.[2] It began actual operations of the steam-powered electrical generating plant on Pearl Street in 1882.[2] Austin Cornelius Dunham was the company's first president.[3] The first major project the company did was electrical lighting to the Asylum Street railroad station in 1883. HELCO ultimately made Hartford the first city in America with an all-electric street lighting system.[4]

Dutch Point[edit]

Dutch point power plant, circa 1909

Hartford Light and Power Company, HELCO's competitor, bought the steam company and HELCO eventually vacated by 1887. HELCO bought Hartford Light and Power Company in 1896. They then returned to their original Pearl Street plant. The Hartford Electric Light Company operated the first steam turbine by a public utility to produce electricity in America.[3][5] The steam turbine electrical generator was called Mary-Ann. It was installed at their Pearl Street plant in 1901.[5] The Pearl Street plant also powered the city's street cars. The plant became a substation in 1905 when HELCO's Dutch Point plant was constructed and put in full operation.[1]

Dutch point in Hartford was so named because the Dutch under Adrian Block landed there in 1614, which was about two decades before the English settlers came there. This plant started in operation in 1905, and before this the main electricity supply for the city of Hartford came from the original Pearl street plant of the Hartford Electric Light Company.[6]

Tariffville powerhouse[edit]

Tariffville Dam and hydroelectric station

HELCO constructed in 1899 a dam on the Farmington River at Tariffville, which is on the edge of the town of Simsbury, Connecticut. There a powerhouse was built to generate electricity. This power plant was built with two pairs of 1300 horsepower water wheels. They connected to two seven-hundred kilowatt generators made by Westinghouse. This was the first time aluminum was used for the conductors in a transmission line. The Tariffville dam with the powerhouse was destroyed by flooding that came about because of two sequential hurricanes in August 1955.[7]

Connecticut Power Company[edit]

HELCO electrical network in 1909
Main article: Eversource Energy

A 1909 engineering report describes the station and its equipment as having two water-power stations (See 'HELCO electrical network in 1909') operated in conjunction with it (#1 plant & #2 plant). The two electrical generator plants were located on the Farmington river about twelve miles from Hartford. The three plants were connected together and regulated at the main plant and supplied all the electricity for Hartford.[6]

The Connecticut Power Company entered into a power exchange agreement with HELCO in 1915 where they would work together to get electricity to each other's customers as needed. HELCO built a power station in 1921 at South Meadows in Hartford.[8]

HELCO had just over three thousand customers in 1900. Fifty years later their customer base was almost ninety thousand. At that time they served Hartford and the surrounding area of about two hundred and fifty square miles. HELCO merged with the Connecticut Power Company in 1958. These then later became Connecticut Light & Power.[8]


"Mary-Ann" steam turbine electric generator 1901

HELCO was the first company in America to use a steam turbine for a public utility to generate electricity.[5] They installed the steam turbine generator in 1901 and it became known as "Mary-Ann."[3][8]

HELCO made several innovations in the electrical industry. They became standard practices. HELCO was the first electric company in the United States to transmit three-phase alternating current at high voltage for long distances. The company did this in 1893 from their Rainbow Hydroelectric Station in Windsor, Connecticut to its main station in Hartford – some eight miles away.[4] Hartford Electric Light Company was the first to use a storage battery in conjunction with the electricity produced at a hydraulic powerhouse. The innovation made it possible to collect and store water power energy that would have gone unused during low demand periods. This energy could then be returned when the demands were higher.[4]

The president of HELCO invented an electric range that had a broiler, cooker, and roaster. The company marketed the electric range. There were about 20,000 ranges put into homes throughout the Hartford area. HELCO's president received patents for an electrical radiator to heat water and an ice-making machine. Many of the homes of Hartford had these electrical appliances by 1915.[4]

Ann Street Historic District[edit]

The original property at 266 Pearl Street is within the Ann Street Historic District and is now the Connecticut Light & Power Company.[9]


  1. ^ a b c "Ann Street Historic District" (PDF). National Register of Historic Places. United States Department of the Interior (NPS). 1983. Retrieved September 6, 2015. The first steam turbine built in America is said to have been installed there in 1901. 
  2. ^ a b "The Turbo-Generator and Electric Drive". Steam Engineering. Ferguson Publishing Company. 21–22: 130. 1918. Retrieved September 5, 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c Mirecki, Zac. "Let There Be Light: An Early History of the Hartford Electric Light Company". Connecticut History.Org. Connecticut Humanities. Retrieved September 5, 2015. The company had as its many assets Oil City, a second hydro plant at Tariffville (1899), and the steam plant at Pearl Street, which now housed the first steam turbine (a 45-ton Westinghouse unit named “Mary-Ann”) to be produced in America and installed in a public utility station. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Hartford Electric Light Company Records". Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. University of Connecticut Libraries. 1996. Retrieved September 5, 2015. The company was the first public utility in the United States to use steam turbines to drive its generators. The first turbine, nicknamed "Mary Ann" and weighing 91,700 pounds, was installed in the company's 266 Pearl Street generating station in Hartford in April 1901. It was a Westinghouse – Parsons type turbine manufactured by the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with a turbo-generator capacity at 1500 kilowatts. 
  5. ^ a b c Kane 1997, p. 219.
  6. ^ a b Power and the Engineer, page 893. Hill Publishing Company. 1909. 
  7. ^ Smith, Laura (2011). "Tariffville Dam on the Farmington River". Archives: Business collections. University of Connecticut library. Retrieved September 7, 2015. 
  8. ^ a b c "Hartford Electric Light Company Records". Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. University of Connecticut. 1996. Retrieved September 7, 2015.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "HELCOrecords" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  9. ^ Bruce Clouette; Michael Kerski; John Hernan (June 1, 1981). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Ann Street Historic District" (PDF). National Park Service.  and Accompanying 22 photos, from 1983 (map showing photo locations on page 25 of text document)


  • Iron (1902). Iron and Machinery World. 
  • Kane, Joseph Nathan (1997). Famous First Facts, Fifth Edition. The H. W. Wilson Company. ISBN 0-8242-0930-3. The first steam turbine operated by a public utility to produce electricity was a 1,500-kilowatt steam turbine installed in April 1901 by the Hartford Electric Light Company, Hartford, CT, at its Pearl Street station. The turbine, manufactured by the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, East Pittsburgh, PA, began to generate electricity in October 1901. 

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