A Legacy in Power and Transport: the Museum of Meralco History

Having been a major and vital player in the lives of Manileños and those living in the nearby provinces, there is no doubt that the Manila Electric Company (popularly known by its acronym Meralco, something we’ll get to a bit later) has contributed much to the city’s development for more than 100 years.

While we may know Meralco today as a utility providing the electricity needs of a bustling metropolis as ours since 1903, Meralco was more than just a power utility firm. And there is no better way to understand its rich and interesting legacy than a visit to its museum located within the Meralco compound in Ortigas Center.

The museum is called the Museum of Meralco History and as can be expected, it showcases a rich legacy in providing a growing city’s growing needs in power and transportation, not to mention a proud legacy of corporate excellence, social responsibility, and basketball too.

the current service area of Meralco

Meralco’s basketball history from the Reddy Kilowatts of MICAA to the Bolts of the PBA

One of the things being highlighted in the museum is a lesser-known aspect of Meralco’s history, it being a public transport operator. In fact, Meralco was originally established at the dawn of the 20th century not just to provide electricity to power households and businesses, but also to power public transport through its operation of electric-powered tranvias. Thus, Meralco’s original company name which was the Manila Electric Railroad and Light Company.

what could be considered the highlight of this museum, a replica of an electric tranvia operated by Meralco during the prewar years

An example of prewar transit advertising in tranvias, this one advertising a bottled water brand from which had bottle crowns for cover. The product may be gone but the brand name lives on in Filipino vocabulary as becoming the local word for bottle caps

Meralco would continue running the city’s tranvia system until the system’s devastation brought about by World War II in the country from 1941-1945. Since then, Meralco would concentrate its efforts solely on power distribution, except for a brief moment in the 1980s when Meralco returned to the public transport business when it operated the original Light Rail Transit line, now known as Line 1, from the beginning of the line’s operations in 1984 well into the end of the decade when the operations were turned over to the government through the Light Rail Transit Authority.

Another interesting aspect one can discover in the museum is Meralco’s history not just as a power distributor but also a power generator as well. In the current set-up, power is being generated by the National Power Corporation and other power producers, with Meralco distributes that power generated to the consumers. But especially during the pre-war years, Meralco was into power generation as well, building massive power plants like the Botocan Hydroelectric Plant, the country’s first hydroelectric power plant, as well as other power plants, notably the one in Makati called Rockwell.

one of the original units used in the Botocan Hydroelectric Plant built by Meralco

Rockwell Power Plant…yep, it was before an actual power plant built by Meralco in the 1960s

Another lesser known aspect of Meralco history was that during the early days of electricity in the Philippines, Meralco was aggressive in promoting the use of electricity in every household and business. How aggressive you may ask? Well, they put up before a retail store that sold electrical appliances and highlighted their benefits and of electricity as a whole. In a way, Meralco was one of the first, if not the first, appliance store in the country.

A Meralco newspaper ad advertising some electrical appliances

If these lesser-known tidbits about Meralco have been interesting for you to discover, then check out the museum for yourself one of these days. It is usually open on weekdays so if you are in the Ortigas Center area, try to check out the museum for yourself. Admission is free by the way.

The Museum of Meralco History is located in the Technical Services Building in the Meralco complex

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