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Sidewalk artifact is relic of forgotten Seattle company

This manhole cover at the opening of an alley between Second and Third avenues is an artifact from a forgotten Seattle company called Mutual Light & Heat. (Feliks Banel)

On a sidewalk in downtown Seattle, a well-worn manhole cover is an overlooked and stepped-on artifact from a forgotten Seattle company of the early 20th century.

Thousands of people walk over it every day without looking down or without giving a second thought. After all, manhole covers (or, if your prefer, the gender neutral and more politically correct “utility access covers”) dot the concrete landscape all over the city – on sidewalks and roads everywhere. They’re supposed to be ignored.

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But this one is a little special. It’s at the opening of an alley between Second Avenue and Third Avenue, on the north side of Pike Street. It reads “M. L. & H. Co.  STEAM,” and it’s more than 110 years old.

“M. L. & H.” stands for “Mutual Light & Heat.”  The company was created in October 1901 to sell electricity (via wires) and steam heat (via underground pipes) to customers in downtown Seattle. Mutual’s roots go back even further, to a company called Diamond Ice & Storage that was founded in 1889. Diamond’s owners created Mutual to diversify their business in a booming and growing city.

Mutual was short-lived. Well, the name was, anyway. By April 1905, another now-forgotten business, the Seattle-Tacoma Power Company, purchased the assets of both Diamond Ice & Storage and Mutual Light & Heat.

It was an era of consolidation, and by January 1912, the assets of Seattle-Tacoma Power were purchased by Puget Sound Traction, Light & Power. In those years, Puget Sound Traction, Light & Power was a major private trolley operator and electric company.

Puget Sound Traction, Light & Power eventually got out of the trolley business and shortened (and re-ordered) their name to Puget Sound Power & Light. They sold off the steam production and distribution assets of Mutual to Seattle Steam in the 1950s, which is now known as Enwave. Nowadays, Puget Sound Power & Light is the major private gas and electric utility company for much of Western Washington, Puget Sound Energy.

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