Milestone-Proposal talk:Folsom Powerhouse, 1895

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Assessment by First Reviewer -- Amy Bix (talk) 23:48, 25 May 2020 (UTC)[edit | reply | new]

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. (,_1893).

In addition, IEEE milestones acknowledge two other hydroelectric plants that began operation in 1895 with multi-phase alternating current (,_1895,,_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)[edit | reply | new]

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.