From water to electricity | MPW 100th Anniversary
by Muscatine Power and Water
September 26, 2022

In 15 years’ time, Muscatine’s municipal waterworks had paid for itself. The $100,00 bond issued in 1900 was retired, leaving only $25,000 owed on the 1904 water works building. The water franchise was valued at approximately $500,000, five times what it was worth in 1905. The water system has provided the citizens of Muscatine with good quality water since its inception.  

In 1911, the Board of Public Works bought six acres north of Lucas Street between Cook Street and Kindler Avenue. The following year, they erected a 200,000 gallon steel tower and tank on the site. The 1916 improvements to the public works department included two miles of new pipe and placing fire hydrants in alleys throughout the town. The plan was to place additional fountains along the streets and another horse trough downtown.  

The Citizens’ Electric Company of Muscatine had started in the city in the summer of 1890. The company installed an electrical power plant on Front Street and had begun supplying electric lights to residences and businesses in the central district by June. The Citizens’ Electric Co. was owned locally but controlled by private shareholders in the Quad Cities. By the time of WWI, Citizens’ had undergone a number of ownership and name changes and was then known as the Muscatine Lighting Company. It was a subsidiary under United Light & Power Company, an Eastern Iowa Utility holdings company, servicing residential, commercial, and industrial load in Muscatine. Iowa Electric, a Cedar Rapids -based utility holdings company, controlled the electrical grid in Des Moines. Its lines ran to the north edge of Muscatine. 

By early in the century, Iowa was solidly in the municipal utility camp. Poor service and concern about ownership of utilities typically led to a call for a municipal election. Fairfield became the first Iowa town to municipalize its electric services in 1882. By 1900, some 800 towns nationwide had municipal electric utilities, three-fourths of them in Iowa. By 1922, there were over 3,000 municipally owned utilities in the US. 

Early in 1922, Muscatine voters, by a 2-1 margin, made their wishes known that Muscatine, too, would be better served by a city-owned light and power plant. Arthur L. Mulgren of Kansas City, Missouri designed the first municipal lighting plant. The adopted proposal included building the plant in the rear of Water Works Park on Muscatine Island. Construction of Units 1 and 2 began in March 1923 and continued throughout the summer and fall of 1923 and into the winter of 1924.  

On June 1, 1924, the Board of Electric Trustee’s announced that they would begin providing electricity to the city of Muscatine. The first customer to receive electricity was Joseph B. Miller, who received meter number one.  

In December 1925, the board proposed an additional bond issue to add Unit 3 — a third generator with a capacity of 1,500 kilowatts (kW) — double the output of the original two 750 kW generators. The bond issue passed by a wide margin, highlighting Muscatine residents’ happiness with their municipal utility operations. 


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