Archives:IEEE Power Engineering Review Historical Articles


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Anderson, J.G. ; Stewart, J.R.
October, 1991
Early Measurements in Lightning and High-Voltage Transmission
When Ben Franklin flew his kite in June 1752, he was unwittingly playing a much more dangerous game than he knew. The future United States could have lost one of the greatest men of the eighteenth century. Variations of the experiment did result in death for other experimenters in the years that followed. Franklin mightwell becalledthe first high-voltage engineer, for he was a practical experimenter and maker of high-voltage sensors and many unusual devices. He even ran an insulated wire from a 9 foot lightning rod on his chimney (the insulation was glass) down into his living room and grounded it to a pump. He then made a gap of about 6 inches in the wire and hooked each wire end to a small brass bell, with a small gap between the bells. In the gap, he suspended a little brass ball by a silken thread. When electrified clouds passed over, enough voltage was generated between the bells to cause the brass ball to move back and forth and cause the bells to ring. Electrostatic force would drawthe ball to one bell. As it touched it, it picked up the same polarity charge as the bell. That repelled the ball toward the opposite bell, where it gave up its charge and picked up an opposite charge which drove it in the other direction. It was an electrical oscillator and storm annunciator. From England on one of his many trips, he wrote to his wife to short out the gap with a wire if the noise bothered her! The same principle was used on the Empire State Building after World War II to turn on lightning measuring equipment when a storm approached.

Anderson, J.
March, 1998
Edison Machine Works Comes to Schenectady
In the last months of 1886, twelve rail cars of heavy equipment from New York City were unloaded at two unoccupied buildihgs on the “flats” of the Mohawk River near Schenectady. In addition, the office equipment was in place by December 18, and, by the end of the year, 300 employees were ready for work. But the story begins earlier.

Anderson, J.M.
July, 1998
Morse and the Telegraph: Another View of History
Samuel Finley Breese Morse invented the telegraph, or so the history books tell us. History also tells us that Joseph Henry, the first head of the Smithsonian Institution, has remarked, “I am not aware that Mr. Morse made a single original discovery, in electricity, magnetism, or electromagnetism, applicable to the invention of the telegraph”. The two statements are not necessarily at odds. Reconciliation lies in the fact that Morse gets the credit of putting it all together, so to speak, and bringing it to the marketplace. Yet there are parts of the story that are still obscure, especially regarding the construction of the first line between Washington and Baltimore.

Barthold, L.O.
June, 1982
What is Electricity? A History
As we approach the centennial year of IEEE, it is important that PES members put the developments of this century in the overall scientific, economic and social contexts of its history. This article, printed some years ago in Contact, the house journal of MANWEB (Merseyside and North Wales Electricity Board) in England, does a good job in summarizing that history.

Cohn, Nathan
June, 1987
Elihu Thomson: Citizen of Swampscott
Summary of speech presented at the opening of the IEEE-Town of Swampscott exhibit "From Inventor to Scientist: Elihu Thomson, 1885-1910" at the Elihu Thomson Administration Building, Swampscott, Massachusetts, on Tuesday, December 16, 1986.

Concordia, Charles
January, 1999
Some Thoughts on Education
Regardless of what one may think about the appropriateness and quality of the American educational system, we hope that everyone would agree that improvements could be made. Thus it would seem reasonable and helpful to put down some observations about what might be the characteristics and objectives of an ideal education. There are several aspects of this question, some of which we shall discuss in turn.

Crookshank, C. ; Kinsler, M.
June, 1997
1936 Los Angeles Synchronous Clock Project
Sixty years ago, the Los Angeles Bureau of Power and Light faced a challenge. The Boulder (now Hoover) Dam had been completed, and the power lines were rapidly approaching the city across 266 miles of desert. The Los Angeles utility generated at a frequency of 50 Hz. Boulder Dam’s power was to be 60 Hz, and project manager E.F. Scattergood had budgeted $3.25 million to make the necessary alterations for his 285,000 customers. Most of this went to alter industrial motors, elevators, and commercial cooling equipment. Smaller appliances would not be a problem, except for 125,000 household and commercial electric clocks.

Dibner, Bern
December, 1983
History of Electrical Engineering, William Gilbert, 1544-1603
Dr. William Gilbert of Colchester, England, is claimed by both the electrical scientists and experimental scientists as a "first." He was a product of the era of greatest expansion in England's history - the reign of Elizabeth I - when the frontiers of the physical world and its social institutions were being extended as never before.

Jeszenszky, S.
December, 1996
History of Transformers
The apparatus Michael Faraday constructed in 1831, by which he invented electromagnetic induction, contained all basic elements of transformers: two independent coils and a closed iron core. Nevertheless, another 54 years passed before the appearance of the transformers and transformer energy distribution networks that are generally used today. During that half-century, several induction devices were constructed that were similar to the heavy-current transformers, but they were different in their construction or operating method. On the basis of these differences, the transformer must be regarded as an independent invention. However, to draw the line between the experimental apparatus of laboratories and the heavy-current transformers, we must consider the development process from Faraday’s experiment to heavy-current application. This article summarizes the history of transformers from their beginning until 1885. This is when three young Hungarian engineers of the Ganz factory in Budapest, Karoly Zipernowsky, Miksa DCri, and Ott6 Blithy constructed the first transformers and built the first transformer system with parallel distribution.

Martensson, Heine
July, 1984
History of High Voltage D. C. Transmission
ASEA started to work in the field of high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission in 1929. It was the development of mercury-arc valves that introduced these pioneering activities. Twenty-five years later (1954) ASEA was the first in the world to take into commercial service an HVDC transmission. This was the link between the Swedish mainland and the island of Gotland. ASEA's pioneering contributions to the development continued with the onset of the thyristor era in 1967. It was in this year that the first thyristor valve replaced a mercury-arc valve in an HVDC transmission. The site was the Gotland link. In 1979 ASEA received the contract for the Itaipu HVDC transmission in Brazil, the largest in the world up to now.

McFarlane, Don
October, 1984
History of Electric Power in British Columbia
The story of B.C. Hydro and the development of electric power in British Columbia is, in essence, the story of British Columbia - for the use of electricity goes hand in hand with the development of the province's major resource industries and trade and commerce.

Myers, William A.
February, 1997
Mill Creek Power Plant: Making History with AC
By the start of the 1890s, the electrical age had dawned in Southern California. Several widely separated communities already were receiving electric service, and others were clamoring for it. These pioneer power plants all at first used lowvoltage direct current (dc) dynamos. Direct current, in which electrons flow in one direction from positive to negative poles as in a storage battery, could not be changed in voltage with the technology of that early era. The low generator voltage was also the transmission voltage. As a result, electricity could be sent a maximum distance of only about 3 miles from the generator. These early plants could most economically serve urban areas with a concentrated population.

Sakshaug, E.C.
August, 1991
A brief history of AC surge arresters
Since the beginning of AC transmission, approximately 100 years ago, lightning protection of transmission equipment has been provided by gaps and by nonlinear resistors, alone or in various combinations. Protection during the early part of the period (1892-1908) was provided by simple air gaps from line to ground. During the period 1908 to 1930, nonlinear resistors based on puncturing and reforming of films came in to use. Further developments were oxide film arresters (1920-1930), silicon carbide nonlinear resistors with nonactive gaps (1930-1954), and silicon carbide nonlinear valve elements with active gaps (1954-1976). Current limitations of the types of arresters and the requirements imposed by 500 and 800 kV systems are discussed. The zinc oxide arresters that have been used from 1976 to the present are then considered. An approximate table of sparkovers, discharge voltages, and arrester height is given

Stewart, J.R.
June, 1991
History of electrical power Cohoes and Niagara: Mills, cana
The use of water power for mills of various types goes back to the earliest settlement in New York. While the development of Niagara Falls is well known, the evolution of hydraulic engineering at Niagara was predated by other upstate New York projects. One such project was at the falls on the Mohawk River at Cohoes, New York, just upriver from its confluence with the Hudson. At both Niagara and Cohoes, canals were constructed by private companies to carry water from upstream to supply mills below the falls. The power needs of the individual mills (typically 500 HP) and the available technology were such that only a portion of the available head could be used by any one mill. The same was true of the earliest electric generation installations. It remained for the second generation of electric central stations for the full available head to be utilized in one plant.

October, 1997
Sound Technologies And Their Rewards
Few people, when asked about the basic character of a phonograph disk or a sound motion picture, would answer, a labor saving invention. Most of us think about these technologies in terms of our own uses of them, as pleasant diversions. University of Hawaii historian James Kraft looks at them from an entirely different perspective, showing how sound technologies had important and controversial implications for organized labor, particularly American musicians.