In the late 1870s, ‘electricity’ was the talk of society. King Kalākaua had heard and read about this revolutionary new form of energy, and he arranged to meet Thomas Edison in New York in 1881 during the course of his world tour. (HECO)
In 1881, the Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair) was held in Paris; it was the first International Exposition of Electricity. The major events associated with the Fair included Thomas Edison’s electric lights, electrical distribution and Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone.
During the King’s visit to NYC, the New-York Tribune (September 25, 1881) wrote an article about the King: “One of the sights that pleased him most was the Paris Electrical Exhibition. We spent some time there.”
“Kalākaua is going to introduce the electric light in his own kingdom; and he examined the different lamps on that account with the greatest interest. The life in Paris entertained him very much; they turned night into day there.”
Then, Charles Otto Berger, organized a demonstration of ‘electric light’ at ʻIolani Palace, on the night of July 26, 1886. To commemorate the occasion, a tea party was organized by Her Royal Highness the Princess Lili‘uokalani and Her Royal Highness the Princess Likelike.
The Royal Hawaiian Military Band played music and military companies marched in the palace square. An immense crowd gathered to see and enjoy the brightly lit palace that night. (HECO)
Shortly after this event, David Bowers Smith, a North Carolinian businessman living in Hawaiʻi, persuaded Kalākaua to install an electrical system on the palace grounds. The plant consisted of a small steam engine and a dynamo for incandescent lamps. On November 16, 1886 – Kalākaua’s birthday – ʻIolani Palace became the world’s first royal residence to be lit by electricity.
The government began exploring ways to establish its own power plant to light the streets of Honolulu. A decision was made to use the energy of flowing water to drive the turbines of a power plant built in Nuʻuanu Valley.
Water was taken in a pipeline running past Kaniakapūpū, then fed a hydroelectric plant in an area known as “Reservoir #1,” just above Oʻahu County Club. Power lines were strung on the existing Mutual Telephone Co poles in the area, down to downtown Honolulu.
In addition, by 1890, the Honolulu firm of EO Hall was installing small power plants at residential locations and supplying some businesses with power via wiring strung from a steam dynamo at their building in downtown Honolulu. Electricity was extended to 797 of Honolulu’s homes. (HECO)
The business of EO Hall & Son, Limited started in 1852 at the corner of Fort and King streets. In their early years, besides hardware, the stock consisted of dry goods of all kinds and quite an assortment of groceries.
The firm continued to deal in hardware, agricultural implements, dry goods, leather, paints and oils, silver-plated ware, wooden ware, tools of all kinds, kerosene oil, etc, until about the year 1878, when dry goods were dropped, except a few staple articles. (Alexander)
On May 7, 1891 several EO Hall corporate officers, under the direction of Jonathan Austin, filed with the Hawaiian government to form a partnership to produce and supply electricity as the Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO.) (HAER)
Five months later – on October 13, 1891 – the co-partnership was dissolved and Hawaiian Electric was incorporated, with total assets of $17,000 and William W Hall as its first President. (HECO)
The works of the company were in a 100 x 100-foot brick building at the corner of Alakea and Halekauwila streets; a large cold storage building was attached.
The cold storage plant was divided into fifteen rooms with temperature varying from 10 deg. to 42 deg. (F.) Meat markets, grocers, fruit and liquor dealers had taken up nearly all the available space of the plant.
The 2-story building had all the latest fittings as electric elevators, electric lights through all the rooms, overhead tracks in the large meat rooms, etc., etc. In the electrical department the company keeps a large stock of electrical fittings and was prepared to install electric plants and supply all the necessary fittings for house lighting. (Alexander)
On January 12, 1893, as one of her last official acts, Queen Lili‘uokalani approved legislation that empowered the government to provide and regulate the production of electricity in Honolulu. Her constitutional monarchy was overthrown five days later.
On May 3, HECO (the only bidder) was granted a 10-year franchise by the provisional Hawaiian Government to supply electricity to anyone in Honolulu.
The government retained control of the operation at Nuʻuanu and maintained it to operate streetlights when it was able. The following year HECO began operating from a generator plant near the corner of Alakea and Halekauwila Streets in Honolulu.
By 1906, HECO power lines extended to Waikiki and Manoa Valley, reaching over 2,500 customers. In 1916, substations fed by high voltage transmission lines came into use and replaced the older system of low voltage distribution lines. By this time HECO provided power to windward O‘ahu and to Pearl Harbor. (HAER)
Construction on the Waiau Power Plant began on June 3, 1937. It was HECO’s second power plant, after the existing Honolulu plant at Alakea Street. The Waiau Power Plant building was finished in June 1938.
During World War II, HECO provided vital electric power to the military for the war effort, sometimes blacking out residential service to be able to meet military demands.
More often, coordination between government and private sector resulted in altered work schedules to allow HECO’s power to flow to the military when they needed it.
A third power plant location was built in 1963 at Kahe Point in Leeward Oahu. Kahe Point would become the main power generating station for HECO, in the early 1990s. (HAER)