NIPSCO is officially 100, but its history goes back much further.
by Rick A. Richards
There aren't a lot of businesses that make it to 100 years. A century of anything is a milestone worth celebrating, and so it is for Northern Indiana Public Service Co., which on Aug. 2 marked the 100th anniversary of its incorporation.
“Our 100th anniversary was a special opportunity for us to reflect on our history and to recognize the customers, communities and employees that have had an impact on our development,” says Kathleen O'Leary, president of NIPSCO. “It also served as a reminder to continue our focus on the future and to make sure we're right on path for the next 100 years.”
Jimmy Staton, CEO and executive vice president of NiSource's natural gas transmission and storage, says, “Much of our success over the past 100 years stems from the customers we've had the privilege of serving and the strong partnership we have forged with communities. We have the honor of fueling progress, not only by supplying natural gas and electric service, but also by providing jobs to thousands of residents and supporting charitable organizations. And, we look forward to powering the lives of Northern Indiana residents and businesses into the next century.”
O'Leary echoes Staton's feelings. “I am most proud of the community partnerships we've developed over the years. Our growth and successes are tied to the communities we serve.
“From the expansion of the railroads in the first quarter of the century to the investments we are making in improving the environment today, we continue to work hand-in-hand with organizations and people who are making a difference in the region.”
In 1912, NIPSCO's predecessor, Calumet Electric Co., was incorporated by a group of Gary businessmen to supply power for the expansion of the Gary Railway Co. But the utility's roots date back further, to 1853, when the Fort Wayne Gas Light Co. was established to serve a community of 4,300. Another NIPSCO predecessor, the South Bend Gas Light Co., was founded in 1868 by the Studebaker brothers, of carriage and later automotive fame. Today, NIPSCO provides electric and or natural gas service to more than 785,000 customers in 30 counties of Northern Indiana.
In a commemorative book marking the company's 100th anniversary, authors Tom Stevens and Barry Veden quote NiSource president and CEO Robert C. Skaggs Jr.: “Since its official formation in 1912 (and nearly a half century before that via its numerous predecessor companies), NIPSCO has been providing the energy services necessary to fuel Northern Indiana's tremendous growth and technological advancement.”
The decades before Northern Indiana Public Service Co. was officially incorporated were known as the natural gas years. From about 1886 to 1900, Indiana experienced a natural gas boom as wells were drilled all over the state. A network of pipelines crossed the state, many of which formed the foundation for NIPSCO's natural gas business today.
But it was the discovery of a practical use for electricity by Thomas Edison (who worked briefly in Fort Wayne) that had the biggest impact. In 1880, Wabash became the first city in the nation to become entirely lighted by electricity.
When it happened, reporters from across the nation traveled to Wabash to report on the event. Today, one of the city's original arc lamps is on display in the courthouse in downtown Wabash.
Because Northwest Indiana was the last region of the state to be populated (because of wetlands and swamps), it came late to the electric revolution that was sweeping the rest of the state. But when the Standard Oil company built a refinery in Whiting in 1889, that began to change. Today, the refinery is operated by BP.
In quick succession, steel mills opened, first Inland Steel and then U.S. Steel in the newly incorporated city of Gary in 1906. Along with them, several small natural gas and electric companies popped up in Hammond, Gary, South Bend and Michigan City.
But it was the creation of Calumet Electric Co. in 1912 that was the start of NIPSCO. In the commemorative book, NIPSCO said the company was organized by a group of Gary businessmen who wanted additional sources of power to extend beyond the recently developed Gary Railway Co. They wanted power extended to Crown Point, Valparaiso and LaPorte.
The joining of Calumet Electric and Northern Indiana Gas and Electric Co. was the beginning of the modern Northern Indiana Public Service Co. The first chairman was Samuel Insull, one of the creators of General Electric. At the time, Insull also owned the Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad.
By the 1930s, NIPSCO consolidated its business in the 30 counties of Northern Indiana by trading properties it owned in Lafayette, Crawfordsville, Frankfort and Lebanon with Interstate Public Service Co. for properties that company owned in Goshen, Warsaw and Monticello.
At the same time, NIPSCO's Michigan City Generating Station went online. The future was bright, but the Great Depression hit and electric use declined. Guiding the utility through that economically difficult period was Dean Mitchell. He not only kept the utility solvent, he set the stage for NIPSCO's involvement today in communities and non-profit organizations. When World War II began, NIPSCO joined with other utilities across the country and set up delivery systems in which 70 percent of the nation's natural gas output went to industries to speed the manufacture of weapons. NIPSCO and its employees purchased more than $2.3 million worth of war bonds.
In 1943, NIPSCO purchased LaPorte Gas and Electric Co. and in 1944, it acquired Indiana Hydro-Electric Power Co. in Monticello.
The 1950s and 1960s saw major growth for NIPSCO as new industries, including Bethlehem Steel (now ArcelorMittal) opened mills on Lake Michigan in Porter County. At the time, NIPSCO reported it was serving the fastest growing and most highly diversified territory in the Midwest.
It opened the new Dean H. Mitchell Generating Station in Gary in 1956. In 1962, it opened the Bailly Generating Station in Porter County, allowing the company to virtually eliminate the need to purchase off-peak power for its customers from other sources.
But by 1967, NIPSCO announced it needed even more generating capacity than it had. It added capacity to the Mitchell, Bailly and Michigan City stations and in 1974, acquired land in Jasper County for the R.M. Schahfer Generating Station.
But before that station was built, NIPSCO announced plans for a nuclear plant in Porter County, a proposal that was met with intense protest. By the time the permit process was to begin, the meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania had happened and NIPSCO was unable to convince regulators of the need for a nuclear plant on the shores of Lake Michigan. Instead, the company's efforts went into the Schahfer Generating Station.
Today, additional expansion has NIPSCO operating a network of natural gas transmission lines across the country.
“In the past century, we have witnessed significant technological advances in the energy industry, many of which could not have been dreamed of in 1912, such as moving from coin-operated services to being able to remotely read electric and natural gas meters,” says O'Leary. “No matter what the new technological advances will be a century from now, NIPSCO, as it does today, will continuously look for ways to serve its customers more safely and effectively. That will always be our focus.”