Willie Wiredhand History

Willie WirehandWas Willie Wirehand Reddy Kilowatt’s arch-nemesis or just a rival? Was he a compatriot, a co-worker or part of a wicked collaboration against Mr. Kilowatt? Well, it seems he was just the coops’ response to the fact that Reddy’s creator, Ashon. B Collins, thought that electricity cooperatives were socialist entities:

Electric cooperatives initially wanted to use Reddy Kilowatt as their spokescharacter. Reddy—depicted with a body, arms and legs of jagged red lightning bolts and a round head equipped with a light bulb nose and outlets for ears—had been around since 1926 and was being used by 188 of the nation’s private power companies as of 1951. However, Reddy’s creator —Ashton B. Collins, who had licensed his character to the private utilities—believed that electric cooperatives were “socialistic” because they borrowed money from the federal government. Not only did Collins refuse to let Reddy be associated with cooperatives, he instructed his lawyers to warn NRECA that any rival character cooperatives might develop would infringe on his exclusive trademarks.

7 comments

  1. David Budka

    On page 218 of the book The Next Greatest Thing the story is told of Willie’s legal fight with Reddy.

    Drew McLay was Willie’s creator and in 1956 Reddy Kilowatt, Inc. filed a lawsuit against the NRECA. However, the private power company’s and their mascot lost, and ended up paying the NRECA 1,195.25 in legal costs.

    Drew McLay than drew a cartoon where Willie is walking away, hanging up a pair of boxing gloves, just having given Reddy quite a shiner.

    Personally I like both mascots.

    David

  2. Krista Jackson

    I grew up in rural KS. I remember both Willie and Reddy when I was just a tike, not even in school yet, prob 1961. I remembered Willie’s name but not Reddy so I just googled “like Willie Wirehand” and came up with this site. I think they’re both cool.

  3. Richard G. Biever

    Reddy Kilowatt and Co. tried to pull the plug on lovable but spunky Willie Wiredhand — spelled with a “D” as in hiredhand (co-ops initially were the “wiredhand” to help the rural American farmer) — when Willie first lit up the rural electric cooperative circuits in 1951. In the above-mentioned court case that was first filed in 1953 by Reddy & Co. v. a South Carolina co-op and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and finally settled in 1957, Reddy and his syndicate of lawyers tried to pursuade the federal judges Willie was somehow harming Reddy’s trademark and that Willie should be ceased. Willie won in the lower district court. Reddy appealed. The judges in the US Court of Appeals Fourth Circuit would have none of this talk and said Reddy — already depicted in thousands of poses displaying the manifold uses of electricity — couldn’t claim the entire electric utility field as his own.

    In court, Willie’s lawyers pointed out that Reddy and his legal henchmen had also intimidated other utilities that tried to create electric mascots over the years with threats of lawsuits. Sadly, these mascots soon disappeared, went swimming with the fishes, you might say, and were never heard from again.

    At the time, the investor-owned utilities battled the upstart consumer-owned cooperatives at every turn, over territory, power supply, you name it. Willie was the inspiration not-for-profit co-ops needed, proving that they could fight the good fights against the much larger and well-funded IOUs and prevail!

    As the years passed, Reddy and Willie made up and even teamed up. I’ve seen rulers and such for 4-H electric programs sponsored by both IOUs and co-ops that featured both mascots together.

    Reddy was brought out of retirement by Northern States Power in the late 1990s when everyone thought the electric utility industry was going to deregulate nationally, but he was soon given the pink slip for good, it seems, after Northern States Power merged with another utility to create X-cel Energy.

    Willie, on the other hand, remains the friendly face of electric cooperatives around the country and is still a popular spokesplug in co-op publications, and makes appearances as a Christmas tree ornament, on T-shirts, as a bobblehead, snow globe and more. Here’s a link to a biography of Willie Wiredhand: http://www.electricconsumer.org/WilliesWorld/AboutWillie/Williesbiography/tabid/215/Default.aspx.

  4. Judy Eyre

    My father worked as an accountant for the REA in Michigan: Cherryland RE in Traverse City; Alger-Delta in Escanaba, Fruit Belt in Cassopolis; when I was growing up. I so well remember Willie Wiredheand! Two of his closest friends were linemen for Fruit Belt RE. One was electrocuted whilst up on a pole due to a pin hole in his heavy rubber gloves. The other had the presence of mind to give the former artificial respiration which saved his life. There was a big write-up in the paper as it being the first time someone who was electrocuted had been revived and saved by artificial respiration. Mr Shavey and Mr Corbett.

    My parents divorced so I also grew up w/Reddy Kilowatt via Consumers Power Co. in Bay City and Saginaw, Michigan.

    And I so remember the striking difference between Michigan Bell Telephone in Saginaw and Bay City – and General Telephone in Dowagiac and Cassopolis!!! It took months to get a phone in the city of Dowagiac because GT didn’t have enough “instruments” (the phone itself) and between Dowagiac and Cassopolis it took what seemed like forever to a teenager to get a phone because some construction was needed as the house hadn’t had a phone for several years before we moved there.

  5. leofa

    If there were to be a battle between Reddy and Wiredhand I think Wiredhand would win. This is because he is subsidized by the federal government and no entity in the world is powerful enough to defeat our government. (not even the rebels in vietnam could defeat our government. our gov lost that war by ending the financial support to the good guys and there were a hell of a lot more bad guys)

  6. Richard G. Biever

    In reference to leofa’s comment: All electric utilities are subsidized by the government. Investor-owned utilities like the ones Reddy used to represent get all kinds of tax breaks. Electric cooperatives that meet hardship requirements receive low-interest loans that ARE PAID BACK with interest and actually put money back into the federal treasury. In fact, electric co-ops receive the least amount of federal support even though they cover more landmass and have fewer consumers per mile of line. Here’s a link to more info: http://www.nreca.coop/members/TaxExempt/Pages/default.aspx

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