email: roadarch@outlook.com

Reddy Kilowatt and Willie Wiredhand Signs

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The photos on this page were moved here from my Signs section to accompany an article I'm working on for the Society for Commercial Archeology's Journal magazine.

The Reddy Kilowatt advertising character was developed in 1926. The character was designed for the Alabama Power Company by Ashton B. Collins, Sr. Supposedly, the inspiration for the figure came to him in a lightning storm. His torso, arms, and legs are composed of lightning bolts. Two small lightning bolts adorn his bald head. He has a light bulb nose and wall outlet ears. . He wears safety gloves and boots. Reddy's stick-figure design was refined in 1933 and trademarked in 1935. In 1946, the character was tweaked a bit more by cartoonist Walter Lantz. Reddy became shorter and better-proportioned. He went from five fingers to four like other cartoon characters like Woody Woodpecker, another Lantz creation. The size of his eyes and his smile were increased.

The character was used in print advertising and, later, television commercials. Reddy appeared in an extensive marketing campaign with merchandise produced for licensed electric companies and the general public. His image appeared on cookbooks and aprons, pens and pencils, lapel pins and earrings, china plates and coasters, lighters and ashtrays, children's coloring and comic books, company and sports team uniform patches, and more. The slogan "Your Electric Servant" usually accompanied his image.

In the contracts with hundreds of individual electric companies, the licensee agreed to always represent Reddy as "genial, likeable, well-mannered and even-tempered." The Reddy Kilowatt Service provided the companies with a catalog of approved products and images which could be adapted for different purposes. The RKS also produced a magazine which features news and promotional ideas. His image was licensed and used in many countries outside the United States. There were dozens of neon signs with Reddy's likeness built in the 1940s and 1950s but only eight survive. By the 1970s, use of the Reddy character was in decline. Only a handful of companies still use Reddy's image. For more, see these websites: 1 and 2.

Alabama Power Company
Attalla, AL
Alabama Power Company
Abbeville, AL
Old Dominion
Power Company
Coeburn, VA
The oldest surviving Reddy Kilowatt neon signs are displayed at the Alabama Power Company offices in Attalla and Abbeville. Attalla was the birthplace of the company and it was the first city in the country to have electric street lights. These signs must have been built before 1946 when the Reddy figure's design was changed. These representations show Reddy with five fingers and a closed-mouth smile. These signs were built by Dixie Neon in Birmingham, AL.

The Attalla sign was restored in 2015. This location will be closing in 2019. It is not yet known if this sign will stay, be relocated in town, or be removed. [map]

The Abbeville sign was installed sometime after 2009. It probably came from another location and is most likely owned by or was donated by Jimmy Rane who has a vast sign collection displayed downtown. [Abbeville map]

This Old Dominion Power Company sign is probably from the late 1940s or early 1950s. Additional neon lettering on the sign spell out "Your Electric Servant." This sign must have flashed between the two text sequences. The electric company is gone now but the sign remains. [map]

Reddy Kilowatt
Dallas, TX
Reddy Kilowatt
Vancouver, BC
Talbott Electric
Pasadena, CA
The Reddy Kilowatt sign in Dallas is located behind a former Dallas Power & Light substation that was converted into a residence. I don't know if this sign was ever installed at the substation or if it came from somewhere else. For more, see this website. [map]

The Reddy Kilowatt sign in Vancouver is installed on the side of the B.C. Electric Company Building. Does anyone know when this sign was installed and if it was located at a different place on the building or elsewhere? For more, see this website. [map]

Talbott Electric was established in 1924. This sign features an unusual representation or simulation of Reddy Kilowatt. It is probably from the 1950s. [map]

More Reddy Kilowatt Signs:
Miami, FL
somewhere in FL [vintage; gone]
Sioux City, IA
Indianapolis, IN [vintage; gone]
St. Joseph, MO: 1, 2
St. Louis, MO [vintage; gone]
Raleigh, NC [vintage; gone]
Fargo, ND [vintage; gone]
Minot, ND [vintage; gone]
Albuquerque, NM: 1, 2 [vintage; gone]
Bend, OR [vintage; gone]
New Castle, PA [vintage; gone]
York, PA
Brookshire, TX [private collection]
Fort Worth, TX: 1, 2, 3, 4 [gone]
Richfield, UT [vintage; gone]
Spokane, WA: 1, 2 [vintage; gone]
Sheboygan, WI [vintage; gone]
Gillette, WY [vintage; gone]

If you know of any Reddy signs missing from this list, I'd love to hear from you.

In 1950, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association sought permission to use the Reddy Kilowatt character but they were turned down. The management felt that cooperatives were "socialist" enterprises. So, the NRECA developed their own character, Willie Wiredhand. He was designed by Andrew McLay in a contest sponsored by the NRECA in 1951. The figure has an electric cable body, a light-socket head, a push-button nose and an electrical plug for his lower torso and legs. The name came from the idea of rural electric service being a farmer's "hired hand" and the substituted word "wired" was a natural choice.

In 1953, Reddy Kilowatt, Inc. (RKI) sued the NRECA for trademark infringement, believing that the characters were confusingly similar. In 1956 and 1957, two courts found that the characters were different enough and Willie survived. His image is still used in advertising and on company uniforms. For more, see these websites: 1 and 2.

Blachly-Lane Electric Co-Op
Eugene, OR
Hot Springs REA
Worland, WY
The Blachly-Lane Electric Co-Op was established in 1937. The current sign and building were constructed in 1964. In 2017, the building was remodeled and the sign was refurbished. [map]

This Hot Springs REA sign is probably from the 1950s or 1960s. REA stands for Rural Electric Association. [map]

Harrison County
Rural Electric Cooperative [gone]
Woodbine, IA
Canadian Valley Electric Cooperative
Seminole, OK
Farmers
Electric Co-Op
Newport, AR
The embossed plastic Harrison County Rural Electric Cooperative sign featured the Willie Wiredhand mascot. It was probably built in the 1960s. This photo is from 2012. By 2016, the sign was gone.

The Canadian Valley Electric Cooperative sign features Willie Wiredhand. This sign is probably from the 1950s or 1960s. [map]

The Farmers Electric Co-Op was established in 1937 and serves cities in Northeast Arkansas. This sign with Willie Wiredhand is probably from the 1960s or 1970s. [map]

More Willie Wiredhand Signs:
Bottineau, ND [gone]
Tahoka, TX
Seattle, WA [gone]

If you know of any Willie signs missing from this list, I'd love to hear from you.

Bountiful
City Light & Power
Bountiful, UT
This Bountiful City Light & Power sign appears to be fairly modern or it could be well-maintained and from the 1970s or so. The character was probably inspired by Reddy Kilowatt and/or Willie Wiredhand. [map]

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