Lighting a lamp in Wichita was a pricey proposition.

Have a five-room house in Wichita, Kansas? In 1923?

A small interconnection with the grid allowed you to take up to four hundred watts at a time. Not a lot of electricity.

You paid your utility a dollar if you used ten kilowatt-hours over the course of a month. That's a dime per kilowatt-hour.

Now that's a little less than what you pay today for a kilowatt-hour in Wichita, about twelve cents. Though a dime was worth a whole lot more back then.

A dime in 1923 was like $1.39 today. So the cost for a Wichita kilowatt-hour in 1923 was effectively $1.39.

Here's another way to look at it. Electricity in Cowtown costs less than one-eleventh now, compared to the roaring twenties.

The rate structure was decidedly declining block in those days.

You paid $1.28 if you used twenty kilowatt-hours over the course of a month, and $2.08 if you used forty kilowatt-hours. So the cost was just 28 percent more to use twice as much electricity, as the base ten kilowatt-hours, and just 108 percent more to use four times as much.

The size of your interconnection and your rate structure was actually a function of the number of rooms in your house.

For a six-room house, your interconnection was 600 watts. Your rates were $1.35 for twenty kilowatt-hours, $2.15 for forty, and $2.95 for sixty.

For a eight-room house, your interconnection was a kilowatt. Your rates were $1.49 for twenty kilowatt-hours, $2.09 for forty, and $3.09 for sixty.

And for a ten-room house, a McMansion in those days, your interconnection was a whopping 1.6 kilowatts. Your rates were $1.75 for twenty kilowatt-hours, $2.43 for forty, $3.23 for sixty, and $4.83 for a hundred. (A hundred kilowatt-hours in a month was considered a huge level of consumption.)

This means the wealthy of Wichita might pay less than a buffalo nickel for a kilowatt-hour. While the less well-heeled paid a dime.

Still, a buffalo nickel in 1923 was effectively seventy cents today. Electricity was pricey back then, for everyone rich or poor.

Tomorrow we'll look at the cost of electricity in Minneapolis, in 1926.

It's amazing the cool stuff that's in the Library of Congress, where you can find the Editor-in-Chief of Public Utilities Fortnightly once or twice weekly.

Steve Mitnick, Editor-in-Chief, Public Utilities Fortnightly

E-mail me: mitnick@fortnightly.com