Ham Moses grew up in a time when Arkansas was still mostly farms untouched by the modern world. Because of his ambition both behind the scenes and in public, he helped usher in the modern age of industrialization for the state.
Colter Hamilton “Ham” Moses was born in 1888 to a hard-working family in Hampton. His father worked long days as a lumberjack and as a farmer while his mother was a teacher. As such, hard work and education were important values from an early age. He worked hard on the farm and followed his father to work in the logging camps, all the while attending school.
Ham Moses moved quickly. He graduated from what is now Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia in 1908. He then went to Tulane University in New Orleans where he earned a master’s degree in history in 1910. After returning to Arkansas, he earned a law degree in 1911. The next year, he married Lena Goodwin of El Dorado, and eventually the couple had four children together.
He briefly worked with the Arkansas Department of Education when his work caught the eye of Gov. George Donaghey. Impressed by his intelligence and work ethic, he hired Moses as his secretary in 1911. After Donaghey left office in 1913, Moses moved to Monticello where he began a law firm with Tenth Circuit Prosecuting Attorney J. R. Wilson. His reputation continued to spread as Gov. George Hays tapped Moses to be his secretary in 1915. After Hays left office two years later, Gov. Charles Brough similarly asked Moses to stay on as his secretary for two more years.
Throughout his career, each of his bosses and partners marveled at his hard work and loyalty. With each assignment, he rose steadily higher. He opened his own Little Rock law firm in 1919 and soon became general counsel to Harvey Couch and his electric company, Arkansas Power and Light. Moses helped steer Couch through all the legal obstacles to the growing utility giant. In gratitude for his work, Lake Hamilton, which was formed by the completion of Carpenter Dam in 1931, was named for Ham Moses by Couch.
After the death of Couch in 1941, Moses became president of AP&L. Moses used his new position not only to advance the company but to become a spokesman for an ambitious plan to bring industry and manufacturing to Arkansas. He went across the country extolling the resources the state had to offer, and businesses increasingly took notice.
While Moses was a champion of industrialization for the state, his relationship with the average consumer was more complicated. Consumers were frustrated by AP&L rate increases while Moses jealously protected the position of AP&L, loyal to the company he helped build. He bitterly fought with Gov. Sid McMath in the late 1940s and early 1950s over McMath’s efforts to bring in electric cooperatives to the more rural areas of the state through federal Rural Electrification Act initiatives. Though AP&L did not serve the areas targeted by McMath, Moses did not want the competition for AP&L or federal aid for any of the rural co-ops. The fight led to court cases and the eventual ouster of McMath.
In 1952, Moses retired as president of the power company but remained an active member of the board of directors for three more years. In 1955, at the age of 67, he embarked on yet another adventure as he formed a law firm in Little Rock with three partners which he stayed with for the remainder of his years.
Moses was credited by business and political leaders alike by the mid-1950s for bringing important new industries to Arkansas. One report estimated that 36,000 new jobs came to Arkansas through his efforts, bringing in $200 million in salaries for those workers and increasing the state’s manufacturing output fivefold.
At the age of 78, he died suddenly in Little Rock. Arkansas would be forever altered because of his work.