1898 – What a Year!

New York City (aka Manhattan) annexed the surrounding counties in 1898, demoting my Brooklyn from a great city to a mere borough. We shall never forget that dastardly act.

Also that year, Henry Lindfield’s car rolled out of control and hit a tree in London, making Lindfield the world’s first auto accident fatality on a public highway. And the famous sharpshooter Annie Oakley wrote President William McKinley proposing military service be opened up to women, and that she would lead a company of “lady sharpshooters” in the war to come with Spain.

In 1898, the great German utility RWE was founded. The U.K. also started a ninety-nine year lease of Hong Kong, a metropolis in the news of late. And the U.S. annexed the Hawaiian Islands, where we'll be next month to do a Visiting Hawaiian Electric cover feature for this February’s Public Utilities Fortnightly.

Other stuff of note happened in 1898. Like the sinking of the USS Maine and the Battle of San Juan Hill and the launch of Pepsi-Cola. In our industry, it was the momentous year when Samuel Insull introduced the idea of utility regulation. At the annual convention of electric utilities no less, as the group’s president. Insull’s popularity with the group plummeted. But within a decade the states began forming utility regulatory commissions.

And in 1898, Clifton Burns and Robert McDonnell, not long after receiving their engineering degrees from Stanford U., moved to K.C. to start up a firm helping electric and water utilities in flyover country (albeit before anyone actually did fly over the midwest). Burns was the technical genius and McDonnell the marketing guy so it’s not surprising Burns got top billing, in the firm that we know as Burns & McDonnell.

Six score years later (plus one year), this engineering giant has another launch in mind. More than in mind actually. Yesterday, Burns & McDonnell announced its new consultancy arm, 1898 & Co. That’s right. It’s named for that seminal year 1898 when Teddy Roosevelt led the Rough Riders up that hill, when Samuel Insull changed the course of our industry’s history, and when Messrs. Burns and McDonnell moved to the city with arguably the best BBQ.