Con Edison traces its early history to the New York Gas Light Company, founded in 1823. New York Gas received a charter from the New York State Legislature to serve all of Manhattan south of an east-west line created by Grand, Sullivan, and Canal Streets. Like most early gas companies, New York Gas would focus its efforts on street lighting, in this case, supplementing or replacing the whale-oil lamps that were installed by the city beginning in the 1760s.
Gas pipe was first laid on Pearl Street, and then on Broadway from Grand Street to the Battery. On October 4, 1824, the Cherry Street residence of Samuel Leggett, one of the company's founders, became the first house in New York to be illuminated by gas. New Yorkers embraced the new technology, and gas lamps soon lighted more than 300 homes and stores.
In 1833, the Common Council (forerunner of today's New York City Council) granted a franchise to the Manhattan Gas
Light Company covering Manhattan above Grand and Canal Streets. Another new company came on the scene
in 1855 when the Harlem Gas Light Company was granted a franchise to serve customers north of 79th Street.
In 1858, the Metropolitan Gas Light Company was granted a city-wide charter and went into direct competition
with the existing gas companies. Eventually it settled into a service territory between those of Manhattan and
Harlem Gas Light. Over time, additional companies were formed, including New York Mutual Gas Light in 1866 and
the Municipal Gas Light Company in 1876.
With six major gas companies serving New York City, the streets were constantly being torn up by one company or another installing or repairing their own mains or removing those of a rival. From time to time, work crews from competing companies would inadvertently meet on the same street and literally battle for customers, giving rise to the term "gas house gangs."Competition in overlapping franchise areas and unreasonable price-cutting were bringing some gas companies to the brink of financial ruin. In May 1880, the city's major gas companies came to an agreement on the price of gas and ended the construction of competitive mains, a business arrangement that would be unlawful today but was legal, and sensible, at the time.
Just as company executives were looking forward to the financial stability and profitability the agreement would bring, a new problem was brewing. In December 1879, Thomas Edison demonstrated his newest invention the incandescent light bulb. As the electric lamp quickly became the light of choice, gas companies countered by finding new uses for their product and touted the benefits of gas for heating and cooking.But the future survival of the gas business seemed to depend on consolidation. On November 10, 1884, executives from the New York, Manhattan, Harlem, Metropolitan, Municipal, and Knickerbocker Gas Light companies gathered at Manhattan Gas Light's 4 Irving Place headquarters (the present-day location of Con Edison's headquarters) and agreed to combine their businesses into the Consolidated Gas Company of New York.
While Consolidated Gas retained its focus on the gas business, the company recognized the role that other energy sources would play in meeting New York's growing needs, and by the early 1900s had acquired a number of electric companies along with additional gas businesses. In the 1920's, Consolidated expanded alternating current (AC) distribution, the technology that is widely used today to distribute electricity. The company also designed and built the first 345,000-volt underground transmission lines, allowing it to bring electricity into New York from distant generating sources north of the city.
Through the years, Consolidated Gas continued to
acquire gas, electric, and steam companies serving New York City and Westchester County. On March 23,
1936, the business was renamed the Consolidated Edison Company of New York.
Today, Con Edison distributes natural gas to more than one million customers in Manhattan, the Bronx, part of Queens, and most of Westchester County. More than 4,200 miles of gas mains and nearly 400,000 service pipes transport more than 200 million dekatherms of natural gas a year.
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