Milestone-Proposal talk:Folsom Powerhouse, 1895

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Advocates and reviewers will post their comments below. In addition, any IEEE member can sign in with their ETHW login (different from IEEE Single Sign On) and comment on the milestone proposal's accuracy or completeness as a form of public review.

Assessment by First Reviewer -- Amy Bix (talk) 23:48, 25 May 2020 (UTC)

Below please find the first review of the Folsom Powerhouse proposal, by Dr, Julie Cohn (Research Historian, Center for Public History, University of Houston, and author of _The Grid: Biography of an American Technology_)

1) Is the suggested wording of the Plaque Citation (as set out on the above website) accurate?

I believe the wording of the proposed Plaque Citation is accurate, but slightly misleading. IEEE Milestone "Mill Creek No. 1 Hydroelectric Plant, 1893" identifies that plant as the first to use 3-phase alternating current power for commercial application. (https://ethw.org/Milestones:Mill_Creek_No._1_Hydroelectric_Plant,_1893).

In addition, IEEE milestones acknowledge two other hydroelectric plants that began operation in 1895 with multi-phase alternating current (https://ethw.org/Milestones:Adams_Hydroelectric_Generating_Plant,_1895, https://ethw.org/Milestones:Krka-%C5%A0ibenik_Electric_Power_System,_1895).

It might be more appropriate to identify this as one of the earliest plants to use 3-phase current, and the first to generate power at 60 cycles (hZ), the speed eventually adopted as standard across the industry. The other achievement of note is the distance over which ac power traveled and this is correctly mentioned in the Plaque Citation.

2) Is the evidence presented in the proposal of sufficient substance and accuracy to support the Citation?

I believe the evidence presented in the proposal is of sufficient substance to support the Citation. I would encourage the proposer to consider a few modifications:

Mid-way through the historical significance statement, this sentence appears: "By 1893, J.P. Morgan had merged Edison General Electric and Thomson-Houston into one alternating current (AC) company to be called General Electric (GE)."

While J.P. Morgan’s financial firm, Drexel, Morgan & Co., was instrumental in effecting the merger, it is not correct to attribute the merger exclusively to Mr. Morgan. In addition, the merger was completed in 1892, not 1893.

In addition, the proposer might want to offer a little more about the context in which this achievement took place. The first demonstration of long-distance transmission of alternating current took place in Germany, at the 1891 International Electro Technical Exhibition. The transmission line ran 109 miles from Lauffen to Frankfort. In 1893, the Westinghouse Company demonstrated the efficacy of using alternating current for multiple purposes at once (lighting, motors, and transportation) at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. As a result, the Cataract Company selected Westinghouse to build a giant alternating current power station at Niagara Falls (this went into operation at almost the same time as the Folsom plant - 5,000 hp, 2-phase, 25 hZ, 4-wire generators). All this took place in the wake of the infamous “Battle of the Currents” and marked an industry-wide turn away from direct current. These events underscore the importance of the Folsom Power Plant. The Livermore brothers took a visionary step by investing in a relatively new technology for an essential service.

The proposer might consider adding two sources to the supporting texts and citations: Hughes, Thomas Parke. Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880-1930. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983. Jonnes, Jill. Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World. 1st ed. New York: Random House, 2003.

Both provide additional background and context for the battle of the currents, the merger of Thompson-Houston and Edison, and the development of the Folsom Power Plant.

3) Does the proposed milestone represent a significant technical achievement?

Yes, it marks an important step toward standardization within the power industry in the United States, as well as extension of emerging technologies (three-phase alternating current and long-distance transmission) to practical applications.

Assessment by Second Reviewer -- Amy Bix (talk) 23:55, 25 May 2020 (UTC)

Below please find the second review of the Folsom Powerhouse proposal, by Casey Cater (historian of energy and author of _Regenerating Dixie: Electric Energy and the Modern South_)

1) Is the suggested wording of the Plaque Citation (as set out on the above website) accurate?

It is difficult to state with any certainty whether the first sentence in the citation is to-the-letter accurate. Any number of American engineering concerns, streetcar firms, and power companies in the 1890s claimed to accomplish this or that feat first, often in the interest of burnishing their own credentials and/or the boosterist agendas of urban elites with whom they were in league. The sources provided as background material--especially Coleman and Edison Tech Center--make much the same assertion. That said, it is clear, from the attached sources and my own research, that the Folsom Powerhouse was certainly among the very first American facilities to use 3-phase, 60-cycle alternating current transmission. But, again, I cannot confirm that the proposal as written is entirely accurate. The second and third sentences, much more straight forward statements of fact, seem accurate to me.

2) Is the evidence presented in the proposal of sufficient substance and accuracy to support the Citation?

The provided sources are of sufficient substance and accuracy to support what I would suggest might be a more solid claim that, as I stated above, Folsom was among the very first American powerhouses to employ 3-phase, 60-cycle alternating current electrical transmission. Several sources--including Engineering News and the Journal of Electricity--confirm that Folsom did indeed use 3-phase, 60-cycle alternating current but not that it was clearly the first.

3) Does the proposed milestone represent a significant technical achievement?

Regardless of whether Folsom was decidedly the first--rather than among the first--powerhouse to successfully put 3-phase, 60-cycle alternating current transmission to use, the proposed milestone nevertheless represents a significant technological achievement. The facilities at Folsom, like those at Mill Creek shortly before and Niagara Falls soon thereafter, pioneered an explosion of long-distance transmission of hydropower at locations across the United States. In locales as far flung as the Deep South--my geographic area of expertise--utility executives drew inspiration from the accomplishments of engineers and power companies in California to tap Appalachian Rivers for hydroelectricity that would power expanding textile mills, streetcar systems, and, by the late 1910s, war materiale-producing factories well beyond what coal-fired networks--at that point in time--would have been capable of.

rewritten citation -- Amy Bix (talk) 19:35, 6 July 2020 (UTC)

Many thanks to our proposers for revising the citation in response to the two external reviewers' comments! I would like to please raise the question of whether it would be valuable to further revise the citation, in light of the IEEE guidelines for plaque citations. Specifically, the IEEE says: "The goal is to make the citation as meaningful as possible to the general public. One of the secrets to writing a good citation is to focus on the achievement, and what made the achievement most significant."

As it stands, the citation reads: "Folsom Powerhouse was one of the earliest generation plants in the United States to use 3-phase current, and the first to generate 60 cycles-per-second alternating current, today known as hertz. It sent power 22 miles to Sacramento on 13 July 1895. General Electric built the Folsom generators and the earlier 3-phase, 50 hertz generators installed at Mill Creek in Southern California at their Schenectady, New York plant."

That current last sentence shifts focus a bit oddly across the country to New York - so I am wondering whether the citation can be rewritten to emphasize more of the "big picture" story of what made this California site significant.

Perhaps something such as: "Folsom Powerhouse was one of the earliest generation plants in the United States to use 3-phase current, and the first to generate 60 cycles-per-second alternating current, today known as hertz. On 13 July 1895, General Electric generators began transmitting electricity across 22 miles to Sacramento, powering businesses, streetcars, and California's State Capitol. Folsom's adoption of novel technology helped standardize long-distance transmission and pioneered national development of efficient, affordable hydropower."

I recommend moving forward to the next steps in History Committee action.

correction to rewritten citation? -- Amy Bix (talk) 03:06, 7 July 2020 (UTC)

comment sent in email:

Westinghouse was generating 60 cycle before Folsom, but it was 2-phase. Add 3-phase before 60 cycle in the citation to correct the statement.

Re: correction to rewritten citation? -- Amy Bix (talk) 19:34, 23 July 2020 (UTC)

reworded version to fit limit:

Folsom was one of the earliest plants in the United States to use 3-phase current, and the first to generate 3-phase 60 cycles-per-second (later known as hertz) alternating current. On 13 July 1895, General Electric generators began transmitting electricity twenty-two miles to Sacramento, powering businesses, streetcars, and California's capitol building. Folsom's adoption of novel technology helped standardize long-distance transmission, and pioneered national development of affordable hydropower.

Re: Re: correction to rewritten citation? -- Jason.k.hui (talk) 13:58, 2 August 2020 (UTC)

Amy - As advocate, have you reached out to the proposers on your recommended updates to the citation? We need the citation to be firmed up by the proposers prior to the History Committee meeting? Please change "3-phase" to "three-phase." Suggest updating "60 cycles-per-second (later known as hertz)" to "60 cycles per second or 60 Hz." Also, "twenty-two miles" can be simplified to "22 miles."

comments and an adjusted citation -- Juan Carlos (talk) 16:49, 25 July 2020 (UTC)

In my opinion this proposal deserves an IEEE Milestone. The excellent reviewers have already clarified the precedence and significance of the 3-phase and 60 Hz used. I have a few constructive comments:

- In the first sentence there is a repetition of 3-phase.

- furthermore, I wonder if the clarification of hertz is really necessary, that word is much more in the common use that the technical meaning of “phase” [and that would be a difficult one to explain]

- the citation does not emphasize the fact that 3-phase 60 Hz became the american standard

- I would also like that the tension used be included in the second sentence of the citation. It’s important to mark which was the state of the art at that time. From the text, it is 11000 volts.

- in the third sentence, the meaning of “helped standardize long-distance transmission” is not quite clear and some how fails to communicate the concept.

I also think important to include in the tittle the type of energy as hydroelectric. A modification of the citation taking into account those concerns could be as follows:

Folsom Hydroelectric Powerhouse, 1895

Folsom was one of the earliest plants in the United States to generate 3-phase alternating current, and the first one using 60 Hz. On 13 July 1895, General Electric generators began transmitting electricity 22 miles to Sacramento at 11000 volts, powering businesses, streetcars, and California's capitol. The plant demonstrated the advantages of using 3-phase, 60 Hz -they became the standard- and lead to nation-wide development of affordable hydropower.

It also would be interesting to mention how long the power house was in operation? that piece of information is missing in the text of the milestone proposal.

Last comment to mention the Rheinfelden IEEE Milestone in Germany; in this case celebrating 3 phase AC at 50 hertz, which became the european standard.


On July 6th, 2020 the history committee suggested the following citation: Folsom Powerhouse was one of the earliest generation plants in the United States to use 3-phase current, and the first to generate 60 cycles-per-second (today known as hertz) alternating current. On 13 July 1895, General Electric generators began transmitting electricity twenty-two miles to Sacramento, powering businesses, streetcars, and California's state capitol. Folsom's adoption of novel technology helped standardize long-distance transmission, and pioneered national development of efficient, affordable hydropower.

On July 8th, 2020, the proposal team suggested putting 3-phase before 60 cycle, since Westinghouse was generating 60 cycle before Folsom, but it was 2-phase. Therefore, the proposed citation changed to: Folsom Powerhouse was one of the earliest generation plants in the United States to use 3-phase current, and the first to generate 3-phase 60 cycles-per-second (today known as hertz) alternating current. On 13 July 1895, General Electric generators began transmitting electricity twenty-two miles to Sacramento, powering businesses, streetcars, and California's state capitol. Folsom's adoption of novel technology helped standardize long-distance transmission, and pioneered national development of efficient, affordable hydropower.


On July 10th, the history committee proposed the following modification to make the citation under 70 words, which was reflected in the proposal form on July 25th, 2020: Folsom was one of the earliest plants in the United States to use 3-phase current, and the first to generate 3-phase 60 cycles-per-second (later known as hertz) alternating current. On 13 July 1895, General Electric generators began transmitting electricity twenty-two miles to Sacramento, powering businesses, streetcars, and California's capitol building. Folsom's adoption of novel technology helped standardize long-distance transmission, and pioneered national development of affordable hydropower.

final (?) citation wording in dialogue with proposers -- Amy Bix (talk) 19:04, 5 August 2020 (UTC)

After extensive email exchanges with the proposers, they/I have settled on this new proposed citation wording:

Folsom was one of the earliest plants in the United States to generate three-phase alternating current, and the first using three-phase 60 Hertz. On 13 July 1895, General Electric generators began transmitting electricity 22 miles to Sacramento at 11000 volts, powering businesses, streetcars, and California's capitol. The plant demonstrated advantages of three-phase, 60 Hertz long-distance transmission, which became standard, and promoted nationwide development of affordable hydropower.

Re: final (?) citation wording in dialogue with proposers -- Ebruton (talk) 21:03, 6 August 2020 (UTC)

With apologies for lateness in reply, might I suggest the addition of one word (marked in caps):

Folsom was one of the earliest ELECTRICAL plants in the United States to generate three-phase alternating current, and the first using three-phase 60 Hertz. On 13 July 1895, General Electric generators began transmitting electricity 22 miles to Sacramento at 11000 volts, powering businesses, streetcars, and California's capitol. The plant demonstrated advantages of three-phase, 60 Hertz long-distance transmission, which became standard, and promoted nationwide development of affordable hydropower.

Ebruton (talk) 21:03, 6 August 2020 (UTC)