The day must come when electricity will be for everyone, as the waters of the rivers and the wind of heaven. It should not merely be supplied, but lavished, that men may use it at their will, as the air they breathe. - Emile Zola, “Travail”, 1901
For those who found this article interesting, I cannot recommend enough taking a tour of the Niagara Falls power plant on the Ontario side of the Falls. I took my kids there last summer and it was an amazing experience.
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Unless I’m missing something, there is a problem with the graph labelled U.S. Electric Power Consumption by Use 1887-1921 in kWh. 428 kWh consumption in 1920 when the capacity was appx 12 GW doesn’t make sense.
The DC-AC war is often mentioned. But the other major candidate was steam as a utility. Steam is still a utility in a lot of areas, but it seems mostly to be used in heat exchange.
Back in the day, most of your engines ran on steam. Steam has a lot of the speed changing advantages that DC had over AC electric. So you had steam fire pumps, steam elevators, etc. Like DC electric, it lacks the easy ability to transport energy over space.
Your comments about moving from central power and line shafts is well taken.
This trend continues.
Manufacturing machines used to have a single large motor driving a dozen or more internal functions via mechanical linkages.
In the past 20-30 years much of that has been replaced by small, miniature and micro Servo motors.
1function - 1 motor
Studied nuclear power in the navy in 68, generated DC power and steam propulsion on a ship in late 60s early 70s. Developed a famous cogen project (alcon) in the 80s and generally always been interested in things electric.
Excellent article, looking forward to more.
Fascinating article. And thanks for the bibliography. If you had to recommend a single best summary book among that list, what would it be?
Thorough and well done. I was surprised at the number of light bulb attempts before Edison.