City Light Communications and Public Affairs Division Digital Photographs, 2000-2020

Overview of the Collection

Seattle City Light
City Light Communications and Public Affairs Division Digital Photographs
2000-2020 (inclusive)
339 digital image files
Collection Number
Digital images of Seattle City Light including personnel, elected and appointed officials, hydroelectric facilities, solar energy, and public events.
Seattle Municipal Archives
Seattle Municipal Archives
Office of the City Clerk
City of Seattle
PO Box 94728
Seattle, WA
Telephone: 2062337807
Fax: 2063869025
Access Restrictions

Records are open to the public.


Historical NoteReturn to Top

City Light provides electricity and electrical and conservation services to its public and private customers. It is the largest public utility in the Pacific Northwest. Public responsibility for electrical energy dates back to 1890 with creation of the Department of Lighting and Water Works. The formulation of this public utility stemmed from fear of monopolization by private companies and was reinforced by the inadequacy of those companies during the Great Fire of 1889. Unable to gain access to private water, much of the business district was burned to the ground. Citizens responded eagerly to the idea of publicly owned water and electricity, which was later encouraged as part of President Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930s.

In 1902, Seattle voters passed a bond issue to develop hydroelectric power on the Cedar River under the administration of the Water Department. This was the nation's first municipally owned hydroelectric project. Electricity from this development began to serve customers in Seattle in 1905. A City Charter amendment in 1910 created the Lighting Department, making it a full member of the City's Board of Public Works. Under the leadership of Superintendent James D. Ross, the department developed the Skagit River hydroelectric project which began supplying power in 1924 with the completion of the Gorge Dam.

Both public and private power was supplied to Seattle until 1951 when the City purchased the local private electrical power company, the Puget Sound Power and Light Company, making the Lighting Department the sole supplier. The Boundary Project in northeastern Washington began operations in 1967 and supplied over half of City Light's power generation. By the early 21st century, approximately ten percent of City Light's income came from the sale of surplus energy to customers in the Northwest and Southwest with the remainder of City Light's financial support coming from customer revenue.

The current name of the agency was adopted in 1978 when the department was reorganized. As a municipally owned public power system, Seattle City Light is governed by elected Seattle officials. Administrative authority rests with the Superintendent and an executive team that includes the department's Chief of Staff, Service and Energy Delivery Officer, Human Resources Officer, Power Supply and Environmental Affairs Officer, and Chief Financial Officer. City Light is responsible for electrical service and streetlight service, streetlight problems, and also conservation, both residential and commercial/industrial.

City Light provides low-cost, reliable, and environmentally responsible electric power to approximately 395,000 customers in Seattle and neighboring areas, including Burien, Lake Forest Park, Normandy Park, Renton, SeaTac, Shoreline, Tukwila, and unincorporated King County. It is the ninth-largest public power system in the United States and has the lowest rates among comparably sized cities in the United States.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

Content includes images of Seattle City Light personnel; elected as well as appointed officials; and advisory board meetings. Also included are hydroelectric facilities including Diablo, Boundary, and Ross Dams; City Light assets such as transformers, utility poles, and cables included in annual reports; scenic images of the Space Needle, Mount Rainier, and the Skagit area; and wildlife in the Skagit area.

Images also depict the City Light Centennial Celebration at City Hall; an awards celebration for "Climate Wise" (a government-industry partnership climate protection initiative); and a celebration of students who participated in "Utility U", a partnership between the City of Seattle (City Light and Seattle Public Utilities) and Seattle Public Schools that teaches utility operations to alternative high-school students and provides them an opportunity to explore different career paths.

The series also includes images of the 2014 Oso landslide damage near transmission lines, the Denny Substation Community Celebration in 2019, and images of solar panel arrays on public buildings.

Other Descriptive InformationReturn to Top

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Preferred Citation

[Item Number], Seattle City Light Communications and Public Affairs Digital Photograph Collection , Record Series 1204-19. Seattle Municipal Archives.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Acquisition Information

Photographs acquired through the Seattle Municipal Archives Digital Image Management Program.

Future Additions

This series may grow due to continued accessioning through the Digital Image Management Program. This finding aid will be updated to reflect additional accessions.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Electric power--Washington (State)--Seattle
  • Hydroelectric power plants--Washington (State)--Seattle
  • Public Utilities
  • Public works

Corporate Names

  • Seattle (Wash.). Dept. of Lighting
  • Seattle City Light

Geographical Names

  • Seattle (Wash.)


  • Public officers--Washington (State)--Seattle