"He’s small, but he’s wirey... the true embodiment of cooperative spunk."
September 19, 2020 2:00 PM   Subscribe

Rural Electrification programs were supposed to help communities with education, productivity and healthcare among other things. But sometimes communities needed to be sold on the idea of getting connected and that's where electricity mascots came in. Reddy Kilowatt had been the "corporate spokesman" for power companies since 1926 and was a licensed trademark. His creator, Ashton Collins thought "electric cooperatives were 'socialistic' because they borrowed money from the federal government." Collins refused to let Reddy be associated with co-ops, and threatened co-op mascots that were "too similar" with lawsuits. Willie Wiredhand, representing the co-ops, was created in 1952, and in 1956 Collins and his lawyers filed suit in Federal Court. In 1957 they lost and Willie Wiredhand was trademarked later that year. posted by jessamyn (30 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
My Dad worked for New York State Electric and Gas, who used Reddy Kilowatt as a mascot for years. We had all kinds of Reddy swag around the house when I was a kid.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:14 PM on September 19 [7 favorites]


I only know of Reddy Kilowatt through Bruce Sterling's Viridian mailing list thinkpiece about renewable energy, where he posited a new mascot for the renewable era: Greeny Megawatt.
posted by acb at 2:52 PM on September 19 [5 favorites]


Reddy Kilowatt was a big part of my elementary school years back in the 70s. He explained to me a lot of things about electricity and how useful it was and how not to be hurt by it. I'm pretty sure I have some kind of wallet card signed by Reddy from like 4th Grade somewhere in my drawer of lifetime treasures after completing a set of lessons.
posted by hippybear at 3:10 PM on September 19 [5 favorites]


My grandparent's lived in Arlington Texas and whenever we drove near Fort Worth there was a huge likeness of him on the smokestack of a power station not too far from their house. According to this article he was quite a presence all over the city, although I only remember the smokestack. Interesting history.
posted by TedW at 3:22 PM on September 19


I have a Reddy Kilowatt tie-clasp I scored at a yard sale, but the reason I came in here was to mention Wild River, a 1960 film about struggles with electrification in the Tennessee Valley in the 1930s.
posted by Rash at 3:23 PM on September 19 [6 favorites]


In the 40s, my dad and his brothers modded their tractors into equipment for planting poles and stringing lines, and left the family farm to become contractors bringing electricity across the plains. They worked for both REA and commercial power companies. I did not understand the difference between Willy and Reddy so it was fascinating to learn it later. I must say I was partial to Willie. Maybe because I loved the REA Christmas party.
By the time I came along, Willy's job had morphed from promoting electricity use, to teaching people how to use it safely, and later to conserving energy.
I LOVED this post. That second link, the last 1.5 minutes of the video... please please please let it be true.
posted by evilmomlady at 3:45 PM on September 19 [6 favorites]


In Ontario we had Zap the Safety Bird. He's still painted on transformers all over the province, shouting "no" with out much context.
posted by Popular Ethics at 3:56 PM on September 19 [9 favorites]


The Wikipedia article had a surprisingly well written section on not only Reddy Kilowatt being redrawn for wider adoption but what and why was redrawn. The eyes were moved further apart and the grin was wider to allow for greater expression and the body shrunk to appear more proportional. As someone who doesn't know anything about cartoons this description was way better than simply, "Reddy Kilowatt was redrawn for greater adoption."

Reddy Kilowatt might be too old for nostalgia, but Tesla or someone needs to adopt it.

(Also what's with everyone in the 40s and 50s contacting Walt Disney for help drawing things? Was he like tweeting Elon Musk of his day where he just said yes to everything?)
posted by geoff. at 4:13 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]


I don't think I'd heard about Willie Wiredhand until now. Reddy was a part of the ambient background in my childhood, I think because my dad was an electrical engineer for GE. Not in any position having to do with utilities, it was more that since he worked with electrical things he ended up accumulating electrical-related tchotchkes.

> Also what's with everyone in the 40s and 50s contacting Walt Disney for help drawing things?

The Disney studios were widely renowned and I doubt Walt lent their services for free (excepting the occasional pro bono which would help his business look good).
posted by ardgedee at 4:17 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]


[Please note this is a post made as part of MeFi's Fundraising Month. Read more about this project here.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:59 PM on September 19 [2 favorites]


I’m pretty sure most of the mascots Disney artists did for fighting units in WWII were done for free, and there were quite a few of them.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:01 PM on September 19


My dad was an attorney for an electric co-op in the 60s. I have his leather Willy Wiredhand pouch for legal briefs. (I’m not sure if pouch is a great word here. It’s not quite a briefcase though.)
posted by FencingGal at 5:12 PM on September 19 [2 favorites]


My dad has worked for the power company in Ohio for nearly forty years. I sent him this post and he sent me back a photo of a wooden Reddy cutout that hangs on his basement wall.
posted by icaicaer at 6:40 PM on September 19 [5 favorites]


I remember Reddy Kilowatt affectionately from my childhood and have a magnet of him on my circuit breaker box.
posted by elphaba at 6:48 PM on September 19 [5 favorites]


I was only familiar with Reddy, as I have always been a customer of a commercial power company (Puget Sound Power and Light and its successors), and never of a co-op.
posted by lhauser at 6:53 PM on September 19


Popular Ethics: In Ontario we had Zap the Safety Bird. He's still painted on transformers all over the province, shouting "no" with out much context.

I feel like we were issued a Zap colouring book in the elementary school I went to. But I definitely had the thing mentioned in that blog post you linked to:

They also offered a cut-out "Zap" (printed with electrical safety advice) which, when weighted with a penny at the end of each wing tip, would balance on your finger. This was based on the "sky hook" principle.

I remember cutting it out (or maybe it was a punch-out?). The balancing trick totally worked!
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:04 PM on September 19 [2 favorites]


Oh, shit. I think we were issued a brochure in school and I sent away for the stuff...FREE Electrical Safety Information for your family!

I was a safety-conscious child.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:08 PM on September 19 [2 favorites]


Hey TedW, that power plant is still there, down the road from me, sans Reddy. He was a part of my childhood too! My dad was an electrician and always called us his little Reddy Kilowatts when we were hyper
posted by emjaybee at 7:47 PM on September 19 [3 favorites]


I can't help but think of Hardware Wars, what with the Reddy Kilowatt cameo.
posted by detachd at 7:55 PM on September 19 [5 favorites]


I still own three comics from my youth. Reddy Kilowatt is is one of them. I lost my lapel pin of Reddy, and I'm still sad. But, sad to say I'd never heard of Willie Wiredhand until today, which makes me sad.
posted by cccorlew at 8:26 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]


I’m pretty sure most of the mascots Disney artists did for fighting units in WWII were done for free, and there were quite a few of them.

I did a little googling around for my own curiosity, and this article from the US DOD claims that the 1,200+ insignias designed for Allied units were done free of charge.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:16 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]


Reddy Kilowatt was still a big fixture on the new Alabama Power building in downtown Birmingham as late as 1998. He hung over the drive-thru payment lanes, receiving his wages.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:59 AM on September 20


Willie Wiredhand! My MIL worked for the co-op association when he was a kid and he brought it up for...some reason? I don't recall exactly, but I asked a friend who works for them now, and she said that while they don't do as much with him these days (no annual Christmas ornament), I have a standing invite to go check out his statue in their lobby when quarantine is over. I love me a mascot.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 6:30 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]


whenever we drove near Fort Worth there was a huge likeness of him on the smokestack of a power station not too far from their house.

I simply had to go looking for this, and thank goodness it didn’t completely disappear down the memory hole.
posted by mykescipark at 11:41 AM on September 20 [4 favorites]


In Ontario we had Zap the Safety Bird

Holy shit, so that's what that weird-ass shape bird is!
posted by scruss at 6:32 PM on September 20 [1 favorite]


We had Willie Wirehead and Louie the Lightning Bug
book covers in elementary school, even though I don't think our electricity was a co-op by the 1980s. My kids don't get books in elementary school, so explaining what a book cover was and who these characters are was a whole 'thing'.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:34 AM on September 21 [1 favorite]


Even though my town didn't have an electric co-op, my county was involved in an essay contest for the nearby local electric co-op, which I won and got a week long trip to Washington DC with the group.

We met with our respective representatives (ugh, even to a hick high school kid he was nothing but a talking-point generator) and got to meet with (as group of about 100 other winners from my state) but didn't get to ask any questions to Bill Clinton. This was because my cousin won a few years before asked some pointed question to Ronald Reagan and he got mad, and nearly ended the 'visit the White House/meet with the President' part of the trip.

The trip was for all the electric co-op winners, and I think about 25 or so states were represented, 2 from each county, and maybe like 400 people in total. Yay electric co-ops!
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:10 AM on September 21 [2 favorites]


(FYI, don’t get distracted and wander off during the White House tour. The secret service guys won’t let you get too separated from the group, though.)
posted by Huffy Puffy at 12:11 PM on September 21


Wow - I was actually working on a post about this, starting from Hawaiian Electric's only-recently discontinued cookbook to encourage people to start using electric ovens...
posted by Mchelly at 2:02 PM on September 21 [2 favorites]


We also had Louie the Lightning Bug, and I still sing to myself "You gotta play it safe around power lines" occasionally. (And around electricity in general.)
posted by fiercecupcake at 3:25 PM on September 21


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