Howard Colwell Hopson (May 8, 1882 – December 22, 1949) was an American businessman who was convicted of defrauding Americans of more than $20 million (roughly 324 million dollars in 2021). Hopson built his company, Associated Gas and Electric (AG&E) into one of the largest electricity providing companies of the era. At its peak, AG&E was the country's third largest provider of electricity, and the fifth largest holding company.
On October 26, 1908 the New York Public Service Commission hired Hopson as a secretary of the President, five years later placing him as its head of Division of Capitalization. (From 1908-1915, he was one of the key men in New York public utility regulation.)
Hopson left the Public Service Commission in 1915, to open a consulting business (H.C. Hopson and Company) at 61 Broadway in New York City. His company handled the business of American Telephone & Telegraph, The Consolidated Gas Company of New York, and the Electric Bond and Share Company.[b]
Associated Gas and Electric Company
Hopson purchased, with John I. Mange, the Associated Gas and Electric Company of New York for $298,318.19.[c] At the time, the company served 44,000 clients and had 3.5 million dollars in earnings. American Gas and Electric was a holding company organized in 1906 that owned several other gas companies.
Ithaca Gas Light company was founded in 1852. It supplied gas to 28 customers, was formed with a capital of $75,000. It became AG&E on March 19, 1906, through the efforts of William T. Morris. At the time, it was composed of 14 different companies, with a total value of $1.2 million. By 1914, those 14 companies were consolidated to four, and eventually they were united under the New York State Gas and electric corporation. Several other companies both in upstate New York, Kentucky, and Tennessee made up AG&E's portfolio. When Hopson purchased a controlling interest in AG&E, he immediately began buying up more companies, expanding into Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and the Philippines. In the 1930s, the assets of American Gas and Electric were well over $1 billion, and they had revenues of $133 million. They served 1.75 million customers in 6,000 communities. At its peak, AG&E was made up of over 250 corporations (sometimes placed as high as 522, and occasionally as high as "5,800 names") providing electricity, steam, ice, water, and transportation in 26 states, Canada, and the Philippines to 20 million people.
Eventually, it became the nation's third largest electricity producer, producing 9% of the United States' electricity, behind J. P. Morgan's United Corporation (23%), and Samuel Insull's various holding companies (11%). In addition, AG&E became one of the top five largest holding companies. The stock of AG&E peaked at $61 a share, and about 500,000 people invested over $1 billion in the company.
In August 1935, Hopson admitted to attempting to change the policy of major newspapers. He threatened to drop advertising from The New York Times, the Hearst companies, Scripps Howard and many local papers as well. Hopson also sued newspapers for libel, including suing the Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, and Survey Graphic.