Long Beach's First Power Woman

By: 
Gerrie Schipske

Way back at the beginning when the American Colony (AKA Willmore City) was renamed “Long Beach” by Belle Lowe, there was no electricity in the city. Homes and businesses were dependent upon kerosene and candles for light. 

Because of its salt air and temperate climate, Long Beach attracted many who were in search for a place of rest and recuperation. That’s what brought Iva Tutt and her daughter, Margaret, from Montana.

Once in Long Beach, Tutt used her interest in the new field of electrical engineering to establish and operate the first utility in Long Beach and provided “an electric plant to supply light, heat and power.”  In July 1895, the council granted Tutt a franchise and ordered 500 streetlights. Within six months, the ordered doubled.  The contract included poles, wires, lamps and power at a rate of $42 a month.

What was amazing, is that Tutt was not an engineer. Her father had been an electrician and a mechanic, and she learned from him. She was also wealthy and used her enthusiasm for electricity and her money to purchase land and buy the necessary machinery to generate electricity.

While newspapers pointed out that Tutt was operating in a “man’s world” they were quick to refer to her as “extraordinary feminine, the embodiment of domesticity and motherhood.” Tutt’s response was always: “It is not work in general that women would care for, but believe I inherit a talent for mechanics and that in this end of the century a woman has as much right in her natural bent as men. Certain it is that the plant has an enviable reputation for being the neatest, best equipped and economical station of its size on the coast.”

Tutt equipped the Long Beach plant with two steam engines of 125-horsepower each. By August she had obtained the franchise to lay a 1,000 foot cable across the bay in the ocean to provide electricity to San Pedro and Terminal Island. The incandescent blubs lit hotels, homes and beach cottages.

Tutt’s husband remained running their cattle ranch in Montana until her business expanded. She installed him as president of Long Beach and San Pedro Electrical Company.  Iva managed the plant and made all business decisions.

Iva and her daughter, Margaret, were very active in St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and quite the socialites in Long Beach.

In 1896, Tutt signed a contract with the city to light the wharf for five months for $40 a month. In July, the voters of Long Beach got tired of its city government and decided to disincorporate and turn over its assets to Los Angeles County. However, it owed Tutt $122. In December 1897, Long Beach reincorporated. She sued and later won.

Tutt left Long Beach shortly after and headed to Prescott, Arizona and was responsible for starting the Childs Hydroelectric Plant on Fossil Creek in Yavapai County which generated hydroelectric power with 6,000-horsepower engines. Once again, reporters were startled that this business was run by a woman and assured readers that Tutt “was not the least bit mannish appearing and is not sunburned more than the ordinary woman at this time of the year.”

When asked why she did what she did, Tutt told a reporter in the Chicago Chronicle: “I work because I love my work better than anything else. To conceive a project, to know that it means the development of natural resources and will in time revolutionize the chief industry of an entire state  and to be able to work out the idea and bring the project to completion – that is worth while.”

gerrie@beachcomber.news

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