How did gas and electric companies charge and bill their customers in, say, the 1930s? Were there meters like there are now? Did they bill at a flat rate? When did metered billing come about?
May I hijack (no, not really hijack, rather expand) this post: I was going to ask the same thing about telephone bills. Did early switchboard operators clock calls for billing, or were customers billed flat rate, or whatever?
Sorry for intruding, but it would just fir so well.
This link :- http://www.old-mansfield.org.uk/tales/simpson1.htm
shows that gas meters have been around for a long time. I imagine electric meters also have also been with us for a long time .
I asked my mom about this question. The prices for this stuff is from the early '40s but this is also what she remembered from her teen years in So. Cal.
There were gas and electric meters. They did not have gas piped into the home but had the heating oil put into a tank since gas lines were not available where they lived. The electric was charged by kwatts just like now. The bill ran about $3 to $4/month. The water was a flat fee and was $5/month.
Mom was a “hello girl” for the phone company during The War. What they would do for long distance calls would be to make out a “ticket” that would list call from and call to. It was time stamped in and out on the back. A call from So. Cal. to NY was 27cents/7minutes. A short long distance call (about 15 miles) was 5 cents/7minutes. Most calls charges were based on a 5 or 7 minute increment, not like today where we are charged for every minute.
Local calls for residencial service in the Bell system were charged at a flat rate, i.e., the same monthly fee no matter how many local calls you made or how long you talked.
Necessity being the mother of invention, the electric meter was invented in 1888, ten years after the first electric company was created. I assume that before that, customers were billed with some assumed consumption rate since the uses for electricity were so limited.
As a slight aside, I’ve heard that to call from Australia to the UK or US in the early days (via an operator, naturally), the lines were so bad that they kept dropping in and out, and the operator would listen to the conversation, stopwatch in hand. The amount of up-time would be measured on the stopwatch, and that would be charged.
Just a minor point: they were not called electric bills in 1935, they were called light bills.
As a slight aside, I’m quite sure that I saw some really turn-of-the-last-century customer electric meters on display at the Smithsonian a while back.