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Edmond A Hughes

By | Last Modified: May 31, 2019
Hughes Education Center

Edmond A. Hughes (1873-1970) (sometimes spelled as “Edmund”) was a pioneering entrepreneur, investor, politician, and philanthropist who is probably best remembered for co-establishing Hughes Electric with his father, Alexander Hughes.

At one time, Edmond was among the richest North Dakota citizens. He was reputed to have been the largest individual stockholder in Northern Pacific Railway, and one the largest private real estate holders in the state.

In addition to Hughes Electric, Hughes held a diverse portfolio, including several lignite coal mines. For a short time, Edmond also owned several telephone exchanges, including purchasing Bismarck’s in 1907 until selling it to Northwestern Bell.

He served in the State Legislature for a short time, between 1913-1915, where he introduced a bill to create a highway commission. As chairman of a infrastructure committee in 1915-1916, he promoted a $900,000 bond to pave the city’s streets.

Together with local architect Arthur Van Horn, Hughes commissioned the construction of many of the buildings built between the 1910s and 1930s, including the Prince Hotel.

Hughes Junior High, now Hughes Education Center, was named for Edmond Hughes, who donated the land for the school. He had previously donated the adjoining land for Hughes Field, in 1925, for recreational purposes.

He was a chief rival to Edward Patterson and Alexander McKenzie, the latter of which was once a colleague and business partner to Edmond’s father, Alexander.

Biography

Edmond Hughes was born on October 24, 1873 in Elk Point (present-day South Dakota). His father was a prominent lawyer and politician, who, as chairmen of the capital commission, is credited as a key player in appointing Bismarck capital in 1883. At ten years old, Edmond relocating with his family to Bismarck shortly after its assumption as capital.

His first job was a paperboy for the Bismarck Tribune. At twelve years old, he became a cabin boy engineer’s helper on a Missouri River paddlewheeler, which eventually lead to his role as a steam engineer in a logging camp on the west coast.

He graduated Bismarck High School and Minneapolis Academy before entering Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. At 17 years old, he lied about his age to become a switcher for the Great Northern Railroad.

Upon returning to Bismarck, in August 1893, Edmond become a pumping engineer for Bismarck’s private waterworks. Soon after, he became a boss supervising laborers installing water mains. After the water company went into receivership, McKenzie achieved in appointing Hughes as the plant’s superintendent. It was in this role that the two men’s adversarial relationship bloomed.

It was about this time that Edmond’s interest in electricity sparked. Within two years, he co-founded Hughes Electric with his father and was awarded local franchise rights at the end of 1894. McKenzie, now a rival, attempted to circumvent the contract in favor of someone else, resulting in a lengthy court battle.

By 1896, Hughes Electric was operating a 24-hour power plant on the corner of 3rd Street and Front Avenue. Hughes Electric expanded quickly, adding Fargo and other cities to its portfolio, eventually serving 35 towns. In 1900, Hughes purchased half interest in Mandan Electric Company, which was fully absorbed in 1925. By that year, Hughes provided electricity to roughly 25% of the state.

Edmond Hughes also recognized the importance of North Dakota’s vast lignite coal deposits, particularly as a fuel source for his vast electrical empire, and invested heavily in the industry. By 1912, his Washburn Coal Company was the largest lignite mine in the world. He added other mines to his portfolio, including Knife River Mining Company, which produced 1,500 tons of coal per day.

Hughes Electric and its subsidiaries were purchased by United Power & Light in 1928, which later merged with Northern P&L based in Mobridge, South Dakota before being sold to Montana-Dakota Utilities in 1945.

He spent the last years of his life in Florida, where he died on October 8, 1970.

Other Interests

Aside from his energy empire, Hughes found success as one of the leading builders and real estate investors of the time. His first buildings were the power plants driving his electrical business. His first independent building was the Hughes Block at 206 N 4th Street in 1912. Other buildings he financed included: Hughes/Mason Apartments, Prince/Van Horn Hotel, Bismarck Theater, the original Provident Life headquarters at 201 E Broadway, and others.

A proponent of education, despite his own dislike of schooling, Hughes purchased and donated lots to the school district in 1925 for use as an athletic field. Hughes Junior High was later built on the same site, named in his honor. He also donated $1 million for the Edmond A. Hughes Fine Arts Building at the University of North Dakota.

His philanthropic activities also supported both local hospitals, several local churches, Saint Mary’s Central High School, Fairview Cemetery Association, and other ventures.

Personal Life

He was married twice, but had no children. His first marriage was to Edith Wakeman, which ended in divorce. He married Anna Mae Ankenmann in 1940.

His brother, George, is credited with inventing the electric stove and was an executive at Hotpoint and General Electric for many years.

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