The Niagara Falls Hydro-electric Power Plant

Abril Ibarra Siqueiros and Karen Spitzer

Among the various inventions that lived in his three-dimensional imagination, Nikola Tesla, a famous Croatian inventor, had always dreamed of using the falls of Niagara to build a power plant knowing this nature’s energy could power machines. In 1893, this dream became closer to manifesting when George Westinghouse, an inventor himself and entrepreneur that Tesla had been working for as a power developer and engineer, was granted the contract to build the powerhouse.

In 1895 the first major hydro-electric power plant in the world was built in Niagara Falls, NY and was delivering power. It was designed by Tesla and financed by Westinghouse, as well as other investors, including J.P. Morgan. At this time, there were three generators set up of 5,000 horsepower each, which produced 2,200 volts. The plant was fueled by Tesla’s invention of alternating currents and harnessed power from the falls for long distance electricity. It was the first electrification of the world and sent power about twenty-two miles from Niagara to Buffalo, NY at midnight on November 16, 1896. New York City, about 400 miles away from the power plant, later received Niagara’s energy, powering its electric lights. By 1905, it was producing and providing one tenth of the United States’ electrical power.

Despite Tesla’s significant involvement, he was not the only mind behind this facility. A group of engineers formed the team that would make this idea into a reality. Thomas Evershed conducted work on the Erie Canal and was a water power engineer, among other things. With the harnessing attention Niagara’s power was gaining, this became an opportunity to leave a final mark at the age of sixty-nine and was his last major project. Electrical engineer Benjamin G. Lamme designed various apparatus, such as generators, motors, and rotary converters. He improved on Tesla’s generator designs, as well as built them. Before Tesla and Lamme, Oliver Shallenberger was a pioneer of AC power at Westinghouse. He was responsible for developing the polyphase meters that were required for the power plant. Other Westinghouse engineers cited as contributors to Niagara power development are: William Stanley, a pioneer electrical inventor, Lewis B. Stillwell, Paul M. Lincoln, and mechanical engineer Albert Schmid. Together, still with even more involved, they initiated the beginning of the electrical age. The polyphase system of power created became the basis for following electrical power services utilized thereafter and presently.

The plant triggered development and the industrialization of Niagara Falls. The original Westinghouse generators remained in operation until 1961. Adam’s Power Station (Power House No. 3) is the only surviving remains of the Niagara Falls Power Plant.

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