American Linemen transcontinental telegraph

Linemen built the 1,744 mile Transcontinental Telegraph Line in 1861 linking the east with the west so messages could be rapidly sent and received.

Guest Post: The son of a power company executive, 2008 International Lineman Hall of Fame inductee Alan Drew has been climbing poles since he was six years old. His lifelong dedication to the power delivery industry has made him a leading historian on its rich American heritage. Northwest Lineman College gave Alan the opportunity to explore and write an in-depth chronicle of the evolution of the trade; the result is The American Lineman.

The evolution of the United States and all the advancements in technology that have been achieved closely follows the evolution of the use of electric power. Looking back at the recorded history of the evolution of electric power and communications, the scientists, entrepreneurs and financiers are the individuals receiving the lions’ share of the credit.

Very little is mentioned about the American linemen who built the Transcontinental Telegraph line, the Transcontinental Telephone line and all the power lines. The American Power Grid, which has been declared the greatest engineering achievement of the 20th century, was built piece by piece by linemen.

Western Union American linemen

The American linemen’s job was extremely risky in the early years. This image is of a Western Union lineman who got electrocuted working on a highly congested pole in New York.

A staggering fact about the evolution of the linemen is the extreme risk that went with the job in the early years. With no standards, safety equipment and knowledge about electric power, serious accidents were everyday occurrences. Although the records are sketchy, it can be reasonably assumed that one out of every three linemen were killed on the job.

When Thomas Edison was asked about how criminals could best be executed under the new execution law, he stated: “Hire them out as linemen to some of the New York Power Companies.”

The most impressing contribution by the American linemen over the years by far has been their response and efforts to restore service to customers during some of the most difficult weather conditions imaginable including ice storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, etc. More recently, names like Super Storm Sandy, Katrina and Rita ring the bells for the linemen’s efforts. The commitment and willingness to respond to the call to restore service is an informal oath all linemen follow. What they have gone through over the years can only be fully understood if you have been there to witness their work.

Getting the lights back on when they have gone out is a linemen contribution readily recognized by customers. What is less recognized, but of equal importance, is all the work linemen perform daily to upgrade and maintain the grid without turning the power off causing an inconvenience and economic loss to customers. Linemen have contributed to and been closely involved in the development of methods to work on lines “hot.” Today, all pieces of the power grid from medium voltage distribution lines to the highest voltage transmission lines are regularly worked on by linemen without turning the power off. Imagine what this means to our country!

american linemen best after storm

Linemen doing what they do best—restoring service in Missouri after a devastating tornado hit.

The character of the American linemen is one of pride and passion for what they do. This pride and passion is highly visible if you have a chance to attend any of the linemen rodeos that are held regionally around the country. After attending a rodeo and witnessing firsthand the skills that the linemen display, you will leave with a feeling that our critical power grid is in good hands.

When you discuss with linemen what they value about being linemen, the discussion will inevitably include the linemen recalling sometime when they restored power under difficult conditions and a customer sincerely thanked them by bringing out some treat when the lights came on. Linemen find that very rewarding—think about that the next time you encounter a lineman restoring power.


The character of the American linemen is one of pride and passion for what they do. 


American linemen critical work

NorthWestern Energy linemen working on a critical 500,000-volt line energized.


In honor of National Lineman Appreciation Day, we gave away 10 autographed copies of “The American Lineman,” by Alan Drew.

Visit our National Lineman Appreciation Day Page to see the winners.


The American Lineman

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