Press Release - Edison International Makes Gift of Extensive Photo Archive to The Huntington

October 05, 2006


Growth of Region Documented Through Photography and Film Collection


SAN MARINO, Calif. – In a move certain to delight California history buffs and serious scholars alike, Edison International has transferred its extensive photographic archive of the development of the region to The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.


“Our collection on the history of California is already quite large, but these documents from Edison provide an unprecedented window into the development of the southern portion of the state from 1887 to the mid 20th century,” says Steven Koblik, president of The Huntington. “For a researcher interested in this period in California history – and for anyone interested in the history of engineering and technology, from power plants, to street lights, to dams, bridges, and beyond – this is an extremely rich and important collection.” "The Huntington Library and Edison International share not only a heritage in the region but also a commitment to preserving that heritage for the future," said John E. Bryson, Chairman and CEO, Edison International. "These photographs offer a unique glimpse at the birth of the infrastructure that advanced the region's rapid growth over the past century."


The Edison archive includes approximately 40,000 photographic prints, 35,000 negatives, 120 photo albums, and 450 reels of motion picture film that chronicle the development of Southern California’s infrastructure, and document major events including the construction of the Big Creek project, the massive hydroelectric complex undertaken in the early 20th century—by, ironically enough, Henry Huntington himself, founder of The Huntington Library.


Huntington, a railroad entrepreneur, looked to the Sierra Nevada and the promise of hydroelectric power to generate the electricity he needed to run his Pacific Electric Railway in Los Angeles. By the time the first Big Creek generation units came on line in 1913, they were destined to become the largest hydroelectric system in the world. At Huntington’s retirement from the railroad business four years later, Edison purchased Big Creek and immediately began expanding its capacity to meet a growing Southern California demand for electricity.


In addition to the photographs and related material, Edison is providing approximately $200,000 to support preservation, cataloguing, and digitizing, a process that will take up to two years.


Aside from documenting the movement of power through Southern California, the collection also provides a window into California social and cultural history.


“This is important material, and we want to make it accessible to researchers as quickly as possible,” says Jennifer Watts, curator of photographs at The Huntington. “To do that, we first have to organize, catalogue, and digitize it – a painstaking process requiring knowledgeable and careful handling. It’s a treasure trove. For anyone interested in seeing the interiors of businesses, restaurants, nightclubs, and other architectural gems of early Los Angeles – it’s all here. The collection records the evolution of the built and natural environment in spectacular fashion as the company documented the process of bringing electricity to the city and the entire Southern California area.”


The photographic collection ultimately will be joined by other materials from the company’s archive and historical library.


“Edison had extraordinary foresight when it initiated, and then committed to, documenting its work,” said Watts. “It’s unusual for a company to assemble a collection of historical material of this magnitude, and much of it in very fine condition – and then to turn it over to a research library.”


For researchers, the collection gives them a glimpse of bits of historic Los Angeles that otherwise might never have been documented. As entire sections of the city and county received electricity, Edison photographed the process. “In many cases, Edison’s photographs fill an existing gap in the visual record,” said Watts. “Edison recorded the neighborhoods it served, and so there are images of small tourist hotels, rooming houses on Bunker Hill, alley ways and the like, including the region’s vernacular architecture, much of which proved to be ephemeral,” she said.


The collection also is filled with photographs of Edison employees and their activities. One such photo shows a group of about two dozen men posed with their bicycles, bags of light bulbs in hand. These were Edison’s “delivery boys from the lamp department” who, in a clever effort to promote electrification, sped around town offering free replacement light bulbs to every household.


Particularly noteworthy in the collection is a 1933 experimental short film called “Dinner for Eight,” which is one of the very first uses of Technicolor. The film was a short piece made for Edison, promoting the use of electrical appliances in a domestic setting or, more specifically, for a dinner party. It was done a full two years before Technicolor was ever used in a full-length feature film.


In the late 1880s several small independent electric companies worked to bring power to Southern California. Ten years later, in 1897, West Side Lighting Co. and Los Angeles Electric Co. merged to form Edison Electric Co. of Los Angeles and history was made as Edison began acquiring other local electric companies, further expanding its reach. Eventually the firm would become an international conglomerate, with tens of thousands of employees, and millions of customers.


The Huntington is a collections-based research and educational institution serving scholars and the general public. For more information about The Huntington, visit


Edison International, through its subsidiaries, is a generator and distributor of electric power and an investor in infrastructure and energy assets, including renewable energy. Headquartered in Rosemead, Calif., Edison International is the parent company of Edison Mission Group, a competitive power generation business and parent company to Edison Mission Energy and Edison Capital, and Southern California Edison – one of the nation’s largest electric utilities, serving a population of more the 13 million customers in a 50,000-square-mile service area within central, coastal, and Southern California.


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The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a collections-based research and educational institution established in 1919 by Henry E. and Arabella Huntington. Henry Huntington, a key figure in the...

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