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Did You Know: APS Was Founded By A Japanese Immigrant

Hachiro Onuki
(Photo courtesy Dr. Karen Leong)
Dr. Karen Leong is an associate professor at Arizona State University's School of Social Transformation and an author. She is currently working with JACL Arizona and members of the Japanese American community on an oral history project about Japanese Amer

We turn on a switch, press a button or click a remote control. And that quickly electricity is running. Arizona has electricity today in large part because of a Japanese immigrant. Did You Know…the Arizona Power Service company was founded by Hachiro Onuki?

“He brought electrical lighting to Phoenix.”

Karen Leong is an associate professor at Arizona State University's School of Social Transformation. She has been researching the story of Onuki’s life in the United States.

“He was one of the founders, with other men in Arizona, of the Arizona Power Service, APS. It was the Phoenix Illuminating Company.”

Onuki came to the U.S. in 1876. He traveled here with a group of American sailors that was bringing Japanese items to the Philadelphia Centennial Expo.

He was supposed to help transport the items, then make his way west to San Francisco to take a ship back. By the mid-1880s, while headed west Onuki made his way to Arizona.

“He had started a silver mine, that I don’t think did very well. He changed his Japanese name to almost what sounds like some sort of Nordic name … with Ohnick, and really made a life for himself.”

The now named Hutchlon Ohnick, befriended a couple of businessmen. They joined into a partnership on a new venture - gas and electricity. The men decided the best place to launch their business was the growing town of Phoenix.

“I don’t think he personally knew a lot about electricity, but I think he was willing to invest and get other people with him to invest in this idea of electricity.”

And that he did. As the company builder and superintendent, he introduced the Phoenix Illuminating Gas and Electric Company franchise to the Phoenix City Council. By April 1886, the city council gave their support. The company began providing power to local businesses. By early 1887 the first city lamp was lighted on the corner of Washington Street and what we know today as Central Avenue.

The company continued to evolve, and after several years, Ohnick relinquished his leadership.

“He eventually moved to Seattle. And that’s sort of where we lose sight of him.”

APS has written a book about the company’s history, and it begins with the story of its founder - Hachiro Onuki.

Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez was a reporter at KJZZ from 2008 to 2015.