She Kept the Lights on in Long Beach

By: 
Gerrie Schipske
Iva Tutt

When we think of the holidays we usually think of lights. Bright, sparkling lights. But we don't give much thought as to who generates the electricity to run those lights. So it doesn't surprise that few can name who started Long Beach's first electricity utility back in 1895.

The first utility was called the "Long Beach and San Pedro Electric Company" and it was owned and operated by Mrs. Iva Tutt. Seems Mrs. Tutt always wanted to be a civil engineer, and while she admitted there were a lot of things she did not understand "theoretically about electricity" because she had never taken a college course in that or engineering, but she did understand about machinery and how to generate electricity and she did have money to invest. So she invested in an "electric light plant at Long Beach" and when she couldn't find someone to manage the company, she became president and superintendent of the plant.

Numerous articles tell stories about how Tutt had "beauty that is purely feminine" but a "brain that is purely masculine." By Tutt's own account, her father was an engineer and treated her as "his boy." She admitted to liking dolls and "pretty clothes" but preferred to play with "cogs and pulleys." Tutt was raised in Minnesota, married early and decided she did not want to live on the cattle ranch in Montana where she and her husband lived. She took the money she had "saved" and moved to Los Angeles where she found that Long Beach needed electricity.

The town of Long Beach gave Tutt the first franchise to provide "poles, lights and lamps" which were generated by two steam engine boilers powered by crude oil. Her company laid cable underneath the ocean which provided Terminal Island and San Pedro with electricity as well.

Tutt also invested in Long Beach real estate and historical newspapers are replete with notices of her sale to such notables as Steven Townsend. She helped organize a local church, sang in its choir and hosted numerous social events.

When Long Beach dis-incorporated in 1897 over the issue of alcohol, Tutt had to sue to get paid for her lighting services. The city owed her $122.00 for providing electricity to the wharf. The County of Los Angeles took over the city's assets and so Tutt sued for her payment when the city re-incorporated.

 Her investment in Long Beach turned a handsome profit for Tutt but apparently was also a source of "considerable strain." In 1902, she sold the plant and she and her husband and daughter moved to Los Angeles and then to Arizona for her next investment.

On a trip to Arizona, Tutt discovered available land with water rights and made the purchase in order to develop a hydroelectric plant on Fossil Creek in Yavapai County. She became the general manager of Arizona Power Construction Company, that was valued at an estimated worth of $3 million dollars.

News accounts tell the story of Tutt going out into the remote Arizona terrain for weeks "keeping to the saddle for nearly two hundred miles over mountain trails, coming back black-and-blue from head to foot from falling among the rocks and being pummeled by branches." To Tutt, "success means sacrifice."

Tutt also managed to get the Arizona State legislature to pass a bill making her company tax exempt for a period of time. The Fossil Creek plant was eventually named a historical site. Tutt was certainly a remarkable woman.

Gerrie@beachcomber.news

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