Two Construction Workers Standing In Front Of Horseshoe Falls | Niagara Falls, New York

© Sophie W. Smith

Joined October 2012

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Artist's Description

The enormous energy of Niagara Falls has long been recognized as a potential source of power. The first known effort to harness the waters was in 1759, when Daniel Joncaire built a small canal above the falls to power his sawmill. Augustus and Peter Porter purchased this area and all of American Falls in 1805 from the New York state government, and enlarged the original canal to provide hydraulic power for their gristmill and tannery. In 1853, the Niagara Falls Hydraulic Power and Mining Company was chartered, which eventually constructed the canals that would be used to generate electricity. In 1881, under the leadership of Jacob F. Schoellkopf, the Niagara River’s first hydroelectric generating station was built. The water fell 86 feet (26 m) and generated direct current electricity, which ran the machinery of local mills and lit up some of the village streets.

The Niagara Falls Power Company, a descendant of Schoellkopf’s firm, formed the Cataract Company headed by Edward Dean Adams, with the intent of expanding Niagara Falls’ power capacity. In 1890, a five-member International Niagara Commission headed by Sir William Thomson among other distinguished scientists deliberated on the expansion of Niagara hydroelectric capacity based on seventeen proposals, but could not select any as the best combined project for hydraulic development and distribution. In 1893, Westinghouse Electric (which had built the smaller-scale Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant near Ophir, Colorado, two years earlier) was hired to design a system to generate alternating current on Niagara Falls, and three years after that this large-scale AC power system was created (activated on August 26, 1895). The Adams Power Plant Transformer House remains as a landmark of the original system. Read more

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