REDDY KILOWATTOriginal Medium: Corporate spokestoon
Speaking for: Alabama Power Company
First Appeared: 1926
Creator of Record: Ashton B. Collins Sr.
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the most famous — but he isn't the most obscure, either, and he sure has been around a long time.
Information supplied by Reddy's owners indicates the character was created by Ashton B. Collins Sr., general commercial manager of Alabama Power Company. At the time (middle 1920s), electricity wasn't exactly brand-new technology, but a lot of people could still remember when most homes weren't wired, and not everyone was entirely comfortable with the stuff. Collins, just home from an industry convention where a big problem under discussion was how to sell electricity as a servant of mankind, was gazing out the window into a thunderstorm, wondering what an electric servant might look like. All of a sudden, two lightning bolts merged and struck the ground as one. For a split-second, they reminded Collins of a human figure, and at that moment Reddy Kilowatt sprang from his brow full-grown, like Athena from that of Zeus.
Or is that how Gardner Fox got the idea for Hawkman? Or how Bruce Wayne got the idea of dressing up as Batman? The window the dramatic moment witnessed the flash of inspiration It makes a good story, doesn't it?
Since we'll never know what went on in APC's advertising department, that PR handout, circulated years later, is the only origin story Reddy Kilowatt will ever have. Whoever created him, if indeed he was created by a single person, Reddy certainly does look like the personification of electricity. He's a stick figure made of lightning bolts, with a light bulb for a nose and wall outlets for ears. His hands and feet are insulated, and instead of hair, he has a smaller pair of twin lightning bolts.
Reddy debuted on March 11, 1926. He wasn't just APC's spokestoon, but was offered to other local power companies as well. Philadelphia Electric Company was the first of over 200 to license the character. Since then, Reddy's image has appeared on billboards, company stationery, newspaper and magazine ads, give-away merchandise, and everywhere else a toon can appear — including, of course, comics and animation.
Generations of children read Reddy Kilowatt give-away comic books or saw him in animated form at school, in educational films where he was the star. A well-remembered series of them began production in 1947 at Walter Lantz's studio, where Woody Woodpecker, Andy Panda and other familiar characters were born. Competing power companies used similar mascots, such as Willie Wiredhand, but that scarcely made a dent in Reddy's use.
The 1970s energy crisis made power companies less eager to advertise, urging consumers to use more power, and Reddy fell out of use. But he was back in 1998, now the property of Northern States Power Company. They soon fomed a subsidiary, Reddy Kilowatt Corporation, to manage their toon's affairs. They also created a "brother" for Reddy — Reddy Flame, who embodies the cuter and more consumer-friendly aspects of natural gas. Together, the Reddys work tirelessly to sell electricity, gas, and a stunning variety of licensed paraphernalia, all over the world.