Allan Christopher Balch - Pioneer in the Electric Industry

Allan Christopher Balch (March 3, 1864 -1943) was born in Valley Falls, New York to Ebenezer Atwood and Hannah (Hoag) Balch. Allan was educated in Valley Falls area schools until he was ten when he moved, with his parents, to Cambridge, New York. It was from Cambridge that Allan would go on to attend and graduate from Cornell University (Ithaca, NY) in 1889 with a degree in electrical engineering.

Experience in the Electric Business

While at Cornell Allan met his wife Janet Jacks and they would get married on April 29, 1891. After both Allan and his wife graduated they would move to Seattle where Allan would be the general manager of the Union Electric Company until 1891 . From 1891 to 1896 Allan was the general manager, then the lessee, of the Union Power Company located in Portland, Oregon. In 1896 Allan and his wife would move to Los Angeles, California. In 1897, Allan would team up with a man by the name of William G. Kerckhoff and together they would found the San Gabriel Electric Company. For several years Allan would occupy the position of general manager at the San Gabriel and Pacific Light & Power, Companies. In 1902 Allan and William Kerckhoff, along with Kaspare Cohn and A. Haas, acquired the San Joaquin power plant, located in Fresno, California, and formed the San Joaquin Light and Power Company in 1905. During his time in Los Angeles, Alan also;

"…had the distinction of installing the first long distance electric power line in Los Angeles. Other achievements to his credit were putting in the Big Creek Power Plant at Fresno, the Kern River plant, Redondo steam plant and a number of others. He was instrumental in developing electric power for pumping for irrigation, and for drilling and pumping oil wells (McGroarty, 1921)."

Besides being involved in the generation of electricity Allan has the distinction of being a part of the Midway Gas Company. In 1913, as a part of Midway Gas, Allan would be instrumental in the construction of a pipeline that brought natural gas into Los Angeles for the first time.

Allan would end up either purchasing or managing three different electric companies in southern California. Eventually these small electric companies would be bought up by Pacific Gas & Electric and Allan, along with other investors, would make millions of dollars.

Interest in Art

While Allan was managing electric companies his wife, Janet, was collecting various works of art. Starting with sketches Janet eventually bought various paintings. Allan, for his part, managed to add various works of pottery to there collection. Apparently Allan was friends with a seller of Persian pottery and with this friend he would play golf. When playing golf the two friends apparently liked to have the stakes be rather high. Expensive pieces of pottery were bet and lost as part of these games. As a result of these acquisitions Allan may have become further interested in pottery and ancient glass. Eventually the art collected, by Allan and Janet, would get donated to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

In the 1920's Allan was appointed to the position of trustee in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Museum Patrons Association. It was in this position that Allan and his wife would begin to donate generous sums of money for the expansion of the museum's art collection. Throughout the late 1920's and early 1930's Allan and his wife would give generously of their time and money to various institutions. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art received considerable sums of money along with the California Institute of Technology, Scripps College (which still has a Balch Hall), Cornell University (their alma mater) and various other cultural and academic institutions. It was at Cornell where four dormitory buildings were built and named Balch Hall in honor of the contributors.

In 1938 Allan was appointed to the position of Chairman of the Museum Associates. In this position he would advise the Museum's director until his death in 1943. Prior to Allan's death he and his wife gave their entire art collection over to the museum. Through his time, efforts and gifts of money and art the Balches were able to greatly aid the art museum in Los Angeles.

Genealogy of Allan:

Father: Ebenezer Atwood Balch
Mother: Hannah Hoag

Born: March 3, 1864
Died: aprox. 1943


1. Lizzie Balch
2. Harold Balch

Wife: Janet Jacks
Married: April 29, 1891


1. Unknown

Primary Sources/Links:

Balch Hall - Cornell University

Descendants of John and Anthony Emery of Newbury, MA

LACMA Collections Online

Los Angeles from the mountains to the sea: with selected biography ..., Volume 2 - By: John Steven McGroarty

Press reference library (Southwest ed.) ...:being the portraits and biographies of progressive men of the Southwest (Image Source)

San Joaquin Light & Power Corporation Building

Who's Who in Engineering - By: John William Leonard, Winfield Scott Downs, M. M. Lewis

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