A Brief Historical Review of the Electrical Industry and Atlanta

        For centuries, inventors experimented with electricity and eventually unlocked its secrets.  The Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the Atlanta Electrical Contractors Association (AECA) celebrates a rich history rooted in commitment and dedicated service to the electrical industry, as well as a continued determination to improve the standards of electrical construction.  A group of professionals with a vision, and finding strength through unity, lead this Association into a bold new future.  Our entire skyline is a testament to that vision and strength.

In 1883, with a population of 53,000, Atlanta began to see the impact electricity would have on the city when the Georgia Electric Light Company of Atlanta purchased an electric light plant to be constructed at the corner of Marietta and Spring Street.  By 1889, this plant was powering 800 streetlights, a few businesses plus electric streetcars.

The final decade of the 19th Century was a period of rapid development for the infant electrical industry as hundreds of new devices were invented.  This decade also saw the rise of numerous city landmarks.  In 1893, the DeGives Opera House, later known as the Lowes Grand Theatre, opened to great excitement due to its incandescent stage lighting.  Large office buildings, the State Capitol and other structures such as the YMCA building at the corner of Pryor and Auburn Avenue began to change the city's skyline. 

Atlanta entered the 20th Century a booming city with construction at an all time high as evidenced by this report from the city's Superintendent of Electrical Affairs, Mr. T. J. Harper.  "Electricity has become so large a factor in the commercial affairs of our city that few people comprehend its magnitude.  There is more capital invested in electrical enterprises, and more people dependent upon this branch of business for support than any other line of business in the city.  Electrical construction has increased more than one hundred percent over any previous year and, under city requirements, the class of work, both underground and overhead, in new street railway, electric light, power and telephone construction is unsurpassed."

Evidencing Atlanta's awareness and respect for this new phenomenon called electricity was the implementation, in 1909, of what was then regarded as a model electrical ordinance.  This ordinance created a Board of Electrical Control, regulating construction and the installation of electrical equipment.

During this period, primitive washing machines, dishwashers, perculators and vacuum cleaners were being manufactured, but their use was confined to only a few hotels.  While appliances such as flat irons, curling irons and fans were available for domestic use, the only current consuming device in the average home at the turn of the century was the 16-candle power incandescent lamp.  Most of the domestic appliances and household labor saving devices in common use today had not even been dreamed of.

 In 1910, the Georgia Power Company entered into a contract for the acquisition of land necessary for the construction of a hydroelectric plant on the Chattahoochee River.  By 1914, hydroelectric was the accepted power source for the city of Atlanta and Mathis Dam was its primary supplier.  Years later, AECA members would work with Georgia Power on the construction of their major nuclear and coal fired power plants including Plants Vogtle and Bowen.

With the end of World War I, money and resources again became available for peaceful uses.  Industry and commerce expanded and the electrical industry soon realized the value of salesmanship and marketing.  With increased generating capacity came the opportunity for the expansion of electricity for commercial and industrial use.  Seizing this opportunity were farsighted electrical contractors intent on obtaining a share of this new industry.  It was not an uncommon sight to see electrical contractors wiring entire textile mills and villages. 

The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) organized as the nationwide association for the electrical contracting industry in 1901.  On May 11, 1929, the Atlanta Chapter, consisting of twelve firms, received its Charter.  Among those firms were the Cleveland-Browning Company (now Cleveland Electric), E. C. Parker (now Eckardt Electric) and Dixie Electric.  Several years earlier, Walker Electric and Plumbing (now White Electrical) and Dixie Electric were among the thirty-four firms that had formed the Atlanta Electrical Association.   

 The Fox Theater, completed in 1929, was one of the early projects worked on by AECA members.  Atlantans saw the introduction of electric lighting to baseball on May 26, 1931, when the first local nighttime baseball game was played before excited fans who watched the Crackers lose to the Barons 5 to 4.  In 1936, the Atlanta Chapter hosted one of NECA's most important events, the 36th Annual National Convention at the Biltmore Hotel.  In 1938, the nation�s first air traffic control tower opened at the Atlanta Airport.  AECA contractors continue to perform the majority of the electrical work at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.  1939 proved to be a landmark year in the history of Atlanta with the premiere of Gone With the Wind at the Lowes Grand Theatre.

 In 1942, AECA contractors contributed to the war effort with the construction of the Bell Bomber Plant in Marietta.  Our members continue to work at the site in its present incarnation as Lockheed Martin.  To provide our members with the most highly trained and skilled workforce, we, along with Local 613 IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers), established the Atlanta Electrical Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee.  Since 1945, this first of its kind program has trained thousands of journeymen electricians.

 After the war, the automotive industry came to Atlanta with the opening of Ford�s Hapeville plant in 1947.  The General Motors plant in Doraville opened the following year.  During this period, construction began on the I-75 / I-85 connector.  AECA contractors were recently involved in the   construction of the 17th Street Bridge linking midtown with the Atlantic Station development.  In 1959, Metro Atlanta�s population passed the million mark.

        In the 1960�s, Atlantans witnessed the construction of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and the purchase of both the Braves and the Falcons in the same year.  During this period, AECA members began funding health and pension plans for their employees.  Throughout the 1970�s, the city�s skyline continued to expand and the convention and hospitality industries took on increasing importance with the completion of the Apparel Mart, the Omni and the World Congress Center.  The later containing the nation�s largest single floor exhibition space.  After years of planning, MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) began construction of a rail system, with the first line opening in 1979.  AECA contractors have worked throughout MARTA�s 38 stations and 47 miles of track.  AECA reached its own milestone as George L. Peterson completed 22 years of service as Manager in 1976. 

    During the 1970�s, 80�s and 90�s, AECA increased its involvement with the community.  Our members participated in the National Kidney Foundation of Georgia�s annual �A Taste of Atlanta� and provided all the electrical work for the Southwest Christian Hospice�s �Hope House.�  Illustrating our commitment to improving the standards of electrical construction through legislation, the Association worked with the Georgia General Assembly and other industry groups in revising the Georgia Electrical Contractors Licensing Law, thus assuring that only qualified firms would operate as electrical contractors.  Additionally, we tracked and offered testimony on a number of proposed bills and regulations before state, county and city governments.  AECA members continued to serve on the State Construction Industry Licensing Board, the State Codes Advisory Committee, National Electrical Code Panels, the Metro Atlanta Code Council and Project Safe Georgia along with many other committees representing electrical contractors� interests. 

 In recent years, Atlanta has hosted several high-profile events, including the 1988 Democratic National Convention and the 1994 and 2000 Super Bowls.  Atlanta put itself on the world stage when the city hosted the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games.  AECA members wired most of the Olympic venues, including the Olympic Stadium. 

 In the fall of 2000, the Association moved into a newly constructed facility on North Peachtree Street.  With a new facility, came a renewed focus on education, most notably the highly successful Certified Supervisors Program.

 Over the last Seventy-five years, AECA contractors shaped the skyline of our region with projects such as the Mall of Georgia, Turner Field, the Georgia Dome, Phillips Arena, Lenox Square, Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, the Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta's Merchandise, Gift and Apparel Marts, Phipps Plaza, the headquarters for BellSouth, Coca Cola and Georgia Pacific, the Hyatt Regency, the High Museum, Atlanta Hilton, SunTrust Tower, MARTA and numerous federal, state and local government buildings and complexes. 

         As the 20th Century drew to a close, our members remained focused on improving their industry and shaping their City.

   As we begin the 21st Century, the population of Metro Atlanta exceeds 4 million.  AECA members are hard at work on such diverse projects as Atlantic Station, the $ 5.4 billion expansion of Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention�s new Bio-Safety Laboratory.  Seventy-five years after our founding, the vision and strength of the members of the Atlanta Electrical Contractors Association remains undiminished.