Company History

Our company is named after the Otter Tail River, which provided our first source of power. Hundreds of years ago the Ojibwe noted that a large sandspit follows the shoreline of the lake where the river flows into it. Because they thought this sandspit resembled the tail of an otter, the Native Americans named the lake Nigagwanoe, Otter Tail. By doing so, they also named a river, a village, a township, a county, and a power company. 

  • Otter Tail lake, county, and river

    1871

    George Wright, considered the founder of Fergus Falls, builds Central Dam along the Otter Tail River in this small Minnesota town.

  • 1879

    Thomas Edison invents the lightbulb. 

  • 1882

    Boston architect Vernon Wright inherits Central Dam from his father.

  • 1902

    Wright begins converting his arc light customers to electricity and explores the Fergus Falls area for other dam sites. 

  • Dayton Hollow Dam after its completion in April 1909

    1907

    Wright and three other investors incorporate Otter Tail Power Company and begin building Dayton Hollow Dam at a cost of $100,000.

  • 1909

    Dayton Hollow hydroelectric plant goes on line in April and serves its first customer, the Northern Light Electric Company, in Wahpeton, North Dakota. 

  • 1914

    Otter Tail Power Company began operating Hoot Lake hydroelectric plant, which the company had built northeast of Fergus Falls, on the Otter Tail River. The company still operates five hydro plants—Dayton Hollow, Hoot Lake, Pisgah, Taplin Gorge, and Wright—on the Otter Tail River near Fergus Falls and at Bemidji on the Mississippi River.

  • Linemen haul poles in the 1920s

    1919

    The company's electric system covers 2,000 square miles and includes 44 towns. 

  • 1921

    To handle the increasing demand for electricity, the company builds a 1,500-kilowatt steam plant at Hoot Lake and adds turbines in 1923, 1959, and 1964. The 1921 and 1923 additions are retired in 1949 and 1950, respectively.

  • 1926

    The company builds the first sizable steam plant designed to burn lignite at Washburn, North Dakota. It is retired in 1969.

  • Workers shoveled coal into early boilers

    1927

    Kidder Station, a near duplicate of the Washburn Plant, goes on line at Wahpeton, North Dakota. 

  • 1929

    The stock market crashes symbolizing the start of the Great Depression. By this time, the company has expanded service to 314 communities in the region.

  • 1933

    Thomas Wright, Vernon Wright's son, becomes president of Otter Tail Power Company. 

  • 1936

    Congress passes the Rural Electrification Act, and Otter Tail Power Company begins providing wholesale power to area cooperatives the following year.

  • 1938

    Negotiations between the company and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers culminate in signing the first labor agreement with employees.

  • 1941

    The company grows by 25 percent when it becomes the surviving company in a merger with Union Public Service Company. 

  • 1944

    The company reaches its maximum territorial size serving a total of 496 communities after adding several towns in the Bemidji, Crookston, and Hallock areas in Minnesota.

  • Offices like this welcomed customers in the post-World War II years

    1945

    C.S. Kennedy, director, vice president, and general manager, who for nearly 25 years had been the iron man of the company, resigns and management decentralizes.

  • 1946

    Electricity use skyrockets after World War II. The company turns to diesel and gas generators to bridge the gap while additional steam generation is being built. 

  • 1950

    A 15,000-kw steam plant goes online at Ortonville, Minnesota. It is retired in 1988.

  • 1952

    Cyrus Wright, another of Vernon Wright's sons, becomes president of the company. 

  • October 3, 1957  General Office in Fergus Falls, Minnesota

    1953

    The transition from being a self-contained provider to being part of an integrated network of power suppliers is complete.

    The City of Fergus Falls agrees to sell its municipal system to Otter Tail Power Company which, in turn, agrees to build its new General Office there, to be occupied in 1955.

  • 1960

    With the opening of a district office at Milbank, South Dakota, the company has 14 decentralized locations to provide customer service. The offices in Milbank and in Bemidji, Canby, Crookston, Fergus Falls, Hallock, and Morris in Minnesota comprise the East Division; offices in Devils Lake, Garrison, Jamestown, Langdon, Oakes, Rugby, and Wahpeton comprise the North Dakota Division. By 2004 the number of these offices had been reduced to 11, and they were known as Customer Service Centers.

  • 1961

    Albert Hartl becomes president and serves until 1976, transitioning the company from a family business to a modern corporation.

  • 1963

    Directors adopt a two-for-one common stock split. This occurs again in 1988 and 2000. 

  • 1967

    The dispatch center installs the company's first computer. 

  • 1975

    The 450-megawatt Big Stone Plant goes on line near Milbank, South Dakota. Six small, old, inefficient generating plants are retired at Bemidji, Canby, and Crookston in Minnesota and at Devils Lake, Jamestown, and Wahpeton in North Dakota.

    Robert Bigwood becomes president and serves until 1983.

  • Coyote Station near Beulah, North Dakota

    1981

    Coyote Station, with a capacity of 420 megawatts, goes on line near Beulah, North Dakota.

  • 1982

    John MacFarlane is named president and serves until 2002.

  • 1989

    To boost flat utility revenues, Otter Tail Power Company forms Mid-States Development (later named Varistar) to acquire and oversee nonutility businesses.

  • 1992

    Minnesota passes a law that electric utilities must spend 1.5 percent of their electric revenues to encourage Minnesotans to conserve electricity. 

  • 1996

    www.otpco.com web site is launched. 

  • 2001

    Shareholders approve changing the corporate name to Otter Tail Corporation. The electric utility continues to operate as Otter Tail Power Company. John Erickson is named president of Otter Tail Corporation.

  • 2002

    Douglas Kjellerup is named president of Otter Tail Power Company. Charles MacFarlane is named interim president after Kjellerup suffers a stroke.

    The company purchases the 900-kilowatt output of a wind generator along the Buffalo Ridge near Hendricks, Minnesota.

  • 2003

    Charles MacFarlane is named president of Otter Tail Power Company.

  • 2004

    We serve more than 250,000 people in 423 communities in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

  • 2005

    Otter Tail Power Company and six other utilities propose building Big Stone II. An associated transmission project calls for upgrading and adding to the transmission grid.

    Preparations begin for a rate case in Minnesota, the first since 1986.

  • 2007

    Charles MacFarlane is named CEO of Otter Tail Power Company.

  • 2008

    Langdon Wind Energy Center and Ashtabula Wind Energy Center begin serving customers.

    The company files rate cases in North Dakota, for the first time since 1982, and in South Dakota, for the first time since 1986.

  • 2009

    The company celebrates 100 years of providing electrical service to customers. Visit www.otpco100.com for a glimpse into our commemoration. You also can download our commemorative history booklet.

    Otter Tail Power Company withdraws from the Big Stone II project.

    Luverne Wind Farm begins serving customers.

  • 2010

    The company participates with ten other regional utilities in CapX2020, the largest development of new transmission in the Upper Midwest in 30 years. Three CapX2020 Group 1 projects receive permits for all or part of their routes, and construction begins on Phase 1 of the Fargo-St. Cloud-Monticello 345-kv line.

  • 2011

    Phase 1 of the CapX2020 Fargo-St. Cloud-Monticello 345-kv line between St. Cloud and Monticello, is energized. The company owns a portion of this line.

  • 2012

    After years of using 50,000 square miles as the approximate size of our service territory, a value derived from paper maps and hand calculations, advances in technologies allows us to revise that value to 70,000 square miles, which reflects our service area’s total expanse at its outermost boundaries.

    The CapX2020 Bemidji-Grand Rapids 230-kv transmission line is placed in service. The company owns a portion of this line and led its construction.

  • 2013

    Construction began on Big Stone Plant's Air Quality Control System (AQCS). At a total cost of $405 million, half borne by Otter Tail Power Company, it is the largest project in our history.