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Our History

Our History

Honoring our past as we transform the future.

As one of the largest energy companies in the United States, Duke Energy is at the forefront of new beginnings. Duke Energy's history began more than a century ago when James B. Duke led a group that built a system of lakes and dams along the Catawba River to generate electricity that would drive the economic growth of the Piedmont Carolinas. Through the years, many other companies have joined this tradition.

Today, Duke Energy is dedicated to providing clean, reliable and affordable energy in seven states in the Southeast and Midwest. We're an industry leader in sustainable innovation, powering solutions to help our customers and communities thrive and grow – because energy is about more than keeping the lights on.

Take a journey through our historical timeline and see how we've grown over the years.

The Beginning: Growing the South's Economy

Duke Energy's history began with the Catawba Power Company in the early 1900s. Dr. W. Gill Wylie, James Buchanan Duke and William States Lee founded the company because they felt the South's heavy dependence on agriculture was prohibiting growth of other industries  and so they envisioned an integrated electric system of hydro-powered generating stations.

They took the first big step toward this goal in 1904 when the Catawba Hydro Station in South Carolina began providing electricity to Victoria Cotton Mills. Over the next several years, the company's hydroelectric fleet continued to grow to serve not only commercial textile mills, but the entire region's growing appetite for electricity.

The company's leaders also felt strongly about giving back to the communities they served. Their strong philanthropic commitment advanced the region's quality of life by funding health care and education in the Carolinas. It’s a tradition that lives on today. The Duke Energy Foundation targets investments in areas where it believes the company can have the greatest impact on the well-being of our communities  the environment, economic and workforce development, education and community vitality.

Linemen 1909

Economic Boom Times

The economic boom after World War II brought unprecedented demand for electric power. Fancy refrigerators, range-top ovens and television sets became middle-class staples. The increased demand for modern-day conveniences prompted a shift to coal-fired generation.

Tremendous expansion and growth occurred in electric and natural gas companies. Duke Power was no exception, and the company launched a massive construction program.

By the mid-1950s, Duke Power was looking ahead to nuclear power as a clean, safe and economical alternative for meeting growing electric energy needs. The first nuclear project, the Keowee-Toxaway Project, was launched in 1965. The project added the company's first nuclear plant and a pumped-storage hydro plant. The nuclear plant was completed in seven years  at a cost less than half the industry average. The project earned Duke Power its first of three Edison Awards, the power industry's highest honor.

After the 1979 Three Mile Island incident, Duke Power President Bill Lee led the creation of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, which strengthened and standardized the industry's nuclear safety and training programs. Lee again took the lead after the 1986 Chernobyl accident, organizing the World Association of Nuclear Operators. Both organizations helped restore public confidence in nuclear power as a safe and plentiful source of energy.

Keowee 1975

The Competitive Era

The 1990s ushered in a trend to deregulate the natural gas industry in the United States, culminating in the unbundling of natural gas transportation, gathering and storage services from the government-regulated pipeline industry. PanEnergy Corp., a central player in the natural gas industry, quickly established a competitive position.

New gas generation technology brought unprecedented synergies for the electric and natural gas industries in the area of merchant generation. Duke Power saw natural gas not as a competing fuel, but as an opportunity. Duke Power and PanEnergy merged in 1997 to create Duke Energy.

The new company made, moved, managed and marketed energy. Around this time, The Cincinnati Gas & Electric Co. and PSI Energy Inc. merged to form Cinergy Corp., serving 1.5 million electric customers and about 500,000 gas customers in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. In 2006, Duke Energy and Cinergy Corp. became one company and expanded its service area into Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. In 2007, Duke Energy spun off its natural gas business to form Spectra Energy. The new company's operations primarily included natural gas transmission, storage, distribution, gathering and processing.


Transforming the Future

The early 21st century ushered in an era of transformation for the energy industry. Standing at the forefront of innovation, Duke Energy targeted its focus on environmental and economic sustainability. Meanwhile, the Raleigh, N.C.-based energy company Progress Energy adopted a similar focus.

In 2012, Duke Energy and Progress Energy combined their companies, expanding Duke Energy's services to Florida and forming the largest electric utility in the United States. In 2016, Duke Energy acquired Piedmont Natural Gas and expanded natural gas services to include the Carolinas and Tennessee. Now Duke Energy serves more than 7.4 million electric customers and more than 1.5 million natural gas customers.

As Duke Energy moves forward, we’re working to reduce the environmental impact of our existing plants, and investing in energy efficiency initiatives that can reduce the need to build new ones. We’re also developing smart grid technologies that will create a digital network  giving customers new ways to save energy and money. And we’re investing in renewable energy sources, adding aggressively to our portfolio of wind and solar assets.

We are also going to great lengths to attract businesses, help create jobs and strengthen community vitality in the regions we serve.

Today, Duke Energy is dedicated to identifying, integrating and scaling up new technologies that make electricity cleaner, more reliable and affordable. We're poised as an industry leader in sustainable innovation, providing solutions that help our customers and communities thrive and grow. Because energy is about more than keeping the lights on.

Raleigh Solar

As one of the largest electric power companies in the United States, Duke Energy is at the forefront of new beginnings. And while we're investing in the future, we'll never forget the people and the events that got us where we are today.