The above photograph shows the offices and switch house of the Shanghai Power Company, and is one of many photographs showing the company’s power station, company facilities, the Shanghai area, and electricity infrastructure in the surrounding area that can be found in two wonderful albums compiled by the electrical engineer Clifford Rees Webb MIEE. Webb was appointed Assistant Chief Engineer of the Shanghai Power Company in 1930 having worked for Shanghai Municipal Council Electricity Department since 1920. In 1932 he was appointed Chief Engineer for the Shanghai Power Company, remaining with the Company until 1939.

The Shanghai Power Company

The Shanghai Power Company (SPC) was formed in 1929 by an international group, dominated by the US company American and Foreign Power (AFP), in order to purchase Shanghai Municipal Council’s “Electrical Department”. In order to finance its purchase the international group set up the Far Eastern Power Corporation (FEPC) to act as a holding company for the ownership of SPC. American and Foreign Power initially held the majority of shares in FEPC.

This corporate web was completed in January 1935, when SPC set up the Western District Power Company (WDPC) to control its assets which were located outside the Shanghai International Settlement, which marked the boundary of the operations of the Shanghai Electrical Department. WDPC was franchised by the Nationalist Government of China instead of by the Municipal Council of Shanghai.

[Note: this history of the SPC is based on the article ‘last bridge to China: The Shanghai Power Company, the Truman Administration and the Chinese Communists’, by Warren W Tozer published in January 1977 in Diplomatic History, the Journal of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.]

According to the 1986 book titled, America’s China Trade in Historical Perspective: The Chinese and American Performance, edited by Ernest R May and John K Fairbank, AFP was a giant multinational enterprise that operated mainly in Latin America prior to its investment in SPC. AFP’s effective control over SPC brought with it control of power and light facilities and ownership of the largest power station in China at that time. SPC’s franchise gave it a monopoly in the foreign settlement for 40 years.

Amongst the many spectacular photographs of Shanghai in the 1930s within the Webb albums, two fold-out panoramas stand out. One shows a 4-pane panorama of SPC’s Riverside Power Station and the other is a 5-page panorama of The Bund in Shanghai. The 5 panes, from left to right, that make up the panorama of The Bund are shown below.






Clifford Rees Webb

In addition to the photograph albums we have Clifford Webb detailed CV written in 1939 and a lovely reference for him also from 1939 written by C S Taylor (former Vice President & General Manager of SPC prior to 1939). In his own words Clifford describes his work experience in Shanghai as follows;

“For the past 19 years I have been with a large and progressive electricity supply undertaking, the output of which I have seen grow from under 200,000,000 to over 900,000,000 KWH per annum. For the first three years I was Underground Mains Engineer and thereafter for seven years Assistant Distribution Engineer when I had experience in the operation & maintenance, and design & construction of the transmission and distribution systems which includes all necessary buildings, plant and equipment between the generating station and consumer’s terminals. The area covered by the system is mainly heavy industrial with many bulk supply customers, the remainder being commercial and residential with outlying areas calling for supply to many villages and widely distributed consumers necessitating the design and construction of the cheapest and most economical type of transmission and distribution lines. For the past 9 years during which I have been Assistant Chief and Chief Engineer, I have been responsible for all engineering work in connection with the whole system, including generation, transmission, distribution and consumers, the organisation of the same, and preparation of plant estimates, specifications and designs, the preparation of construction and operating budgets, engineering studies in connection with the fixing of tariffs, and assisting the General Manager in connection with the administration of the company. I have a sound and varied experience in the handling of labour and have experienced little or no trouble in obtaining their full cooperation. I have also been responsible for all purchasing such as the placing of contracts for plant and purchase of coal and general equipment and stores. During home leaves I have visited the USA and many countries in Europe in order to keep familiar with the latest engineering practice.”

The above references to Clifford taking engineering responsibility for more than just the power station and also looking after the complete transmission and distribution system, possibly explains the inclusion in the photograph albums of many images of the company’s infrastructure. Three of these photographs are reproduced below and show; a pole transformer; Tonquin sub-station; and the fabulously named ‘Bubbling Well’ secondary sub-station.




For anyone wishing to view these and other photographs within the Clifford Rees Webb collection the collection has been catalogued with reference NAEST 112, and it can be viewed at the IET Archives, by appointment.