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Take a peek inside Duke Energy’s employee-only history museum

Items from Duke Energy’s archives are shown here on display Thursday, July 13, 2017, at the company’s new history museum in uptown Charlotte.
Items from Duke Energy’s archives are shown here on display Thursday, July 13, 2017, at the company’s new history museum in uptown Charlotte. Deon Roberts - deroberts@charlotteobserver.com

Duke Energy and predecessor companies trace back more than 175 years, a long history that’s now on display in a museum the electric utility opened uptown on Thursday.

The museum, inside Duke’s old headquarters at 526 S. Church St., offers a sample of artifacts from the Charlotte-based company’s vast archives. Among items currently on exhibit: the hardhat of former Duke Power CEO Bill Lee, holiday recipe books, a gold-plated meter.

Chris Hamrick, Duke’s senior archivist, credited the idea for the space to Duke’s chief operating officer, Dhiaa Jamil, who “had a passion” for the company’s archives. Those are housed on floors inside a private building on South College Street next to the Charlotte Convention Center.

“We think now’s a good time to really show that we are part of people’s lives, we’ve been a part of people’s lives for over 175 years and just sort of bring that out,” Hamrick said. He said the museum is also a way to educate Duke’s employees, a third of whom have been with the company for less than five years.

Other items currently on display include a dress once worn by a “home economist” whose job was educating customers on how to use electricity to make their lives easier; a figurine of “Reddy Kilowatt,” a now-retired Duke Power mascot; and cans of Duke “Super Juice,” used to promote nuclear power.

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The museum adds to the list of corporate exhibits in uptown, such as those offered by Wells Fargo and Bank of America.

Unlike those, Duke’s is open only to the company’s employees, contractors and vendors, not the general public. Duke says that’s because the museum is in a secure building that requires clearances for entry. Duke retirees can also visit if they are escorted by a current Duke employee, according to the company. Hamrick said the company is currently planning an interactive feature online as to way to share more of its history with the general public.

For Duke, Thursday’s opening culminates a process that began in mid-2016, when the company solicited vendors for ideas about the museum, Hamrick said. The final product is a large touchscreen and four glass cases that together occupy part of a wall in the building’s lobby.

Hamrick said the museum’s costs totaled less than $600,000. Duke said no public funds were used.

Deon Roberts: 704-358-5248, @DeonERoberts

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