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First Electricity in Hilo

In 1890 a water-driven Dynamo was connected to the Hilo Boarding School’s irrigation ditch with a direct current machine generating enough power for 12 bare bulbs to light up the principal’s cottage and the students study room for a couple hours each night.

The Hilo Boarding School was a private vocational school for boys started in 1836 by missionary Reverend David B. Lyman and his wife Nettie.
Commercial and industrial activity in Hilo took off between 1890 and 1900 as electricity, running water, and telephones became available. The locals went from subsistence gardening and making handicrafts to working for wages and going to the Mom & Pop store for necessities. Hilo Boarding School Ditch.

Electric Light Company
Seeing the lights at the Boarding School, many residents of Hilo asked the school to provide electricity to their homes, so officials of the Hilo Boarding School applied for a permit to generate more electricity but were rejected by the Hawaiian government, who felt the school should not be in the business of generating and selling electricity to the public.  In 1894 the Hilo Electric Light Company was formed made up of trustees from the school along with businessmen from Hilo. They leased the ditch water from the Hilo Boarding School. First Hilo Electric Plant on Kinoole Street with Ice Wagon.

At first, lights were installed free to homes but there was a rental charge for the lamps, at 80 cents a month for the first lamp, 60 cents for 2 to 10 lamps, and 55 cents for up to 20 lamps. It didn’t take long before demand for electricity became beyond what the company could provide. Another company called Hilo Electric & Refrigeration Company started up but it didn’t take long before the two companies merged into one electric company in Hilo, called HELCO today.

Another great excerpt from the Hawaii Plantation Museum!

27-246 Old Mamalahoa Highway
Papaikou, HI 96781
(808) 964-5151

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