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   Chapter 8 ELECTRIC POWER.

The Story of Electricity By John Munro Characters: 26365

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

On the discovery of electromagnetism (Chap. IV.), Faraday, Barlow, and others devised experimental apparatus for producing rotary motion from the electric current, and in 1831, Joseph Henry, the famous American electrician, invented a small electromagnetic engine or motor. These early machines were actuated by the current from a voltaic battery, but in the middle of the century Jacobi found that a dynamo-electric generator can also work as a motor, and that by coupling two dynamos in circuit-one as a generator, the other as a motor-it was possible to transmit mechanical power to any distance by means of electricity. Figure 76 is a diagram of a simple circuit for the transmission of power, where D is the technical symbol for a dynamo as a generator, having its poles (+ and -) connected by wire to the poles of M, the distant dynamo, as a motor. The generator D is driven by mechanical energy from any convenient source, and transforms it into electric energy, which flows through the circuit in the direction of the arrows, and, in traversing the motor M, is re-transformed into mechanical energy. There is, of course, a certain waste of energy in the process, but with good machines and conductors, it is not more than 10 to 25 per cent., or the "efficiency" of the installation is from 75 to 90 per cent-that is to say, for every 100 horse-power put into the generator, from 75 to 90 horse-power are given out again by the motor.

It was not until 1870, when Gramme had improved the dynamo, that power was practically transmitted in this way, and applied to pumping water, and other work. Since then great progress has been made, and electricity is now recognised, not only as a rival of steam, but as the best means of distributing steam, wind, water, or any other power to a distance, and bringing it to bear on the proper point.

The first electric railway, or, rather, tramway, was built by Dr. Werner von Siemens at Berlin in 1879, and was soon followed by many others. The wheels of the car were driven by an electric motor drawing its electricity from the rails, which were insulated from the ground, and being connected to the generator, served as conductors. It was found very difficult to insulate the rails, and keep the electricity from leaking to the ground, however, and at the Pans Electrical Exhibition of 1881, von Siemens made a short tramway in which the current was drawn from a bare copper conductor running on poles, like a telegraph wire, along the line.

The system will be understood from figure 77, where L is the overhead conductor joined to the positive pole of the dynamo or generator in the power house, and C is a rolling contact or trolley wheel travelling with the car and connected by the wire W to an electric motor M under the car, and geared to the axles. After passing through the motor the current escapes to the rail R by a brush or sliding contact C', and so returns to the negative pole of the generator. A very general way is to allow the return current to escape to the rails through the wheels. Many tramways, covering thousands of miles, are now worked on this plan in the United States. At Bangor, Maine, a modification of it is in use whereby the conductor is divided into sections, alternately connected to the positive and negative poles of two generators, coupled together as in the "three-wire system" of electric lighting (page 119), their middle poles being joined to the earth -that is to say, the rails. It enables two cars to be run on the same line at once, and with a considerable saving of copper.

To make the car independent of the conductor L for a short time, as in switching, a battery of accumulators B may be added and charged from the conductor, so that when the motor is disconnected from the conductor, the discharge from the accumulator may still work it and drive the wheels.

Attempts have been made to run tramcars with the electricity supplied by accumulators alone, but the system is not economical owing to the dead weight of the cells, and the periodical trouble of recharging them at the generating station.

On heavy railroads worked by electricity the overhead conductor is replaced by a third rail along the middle of the track, and insulated from the ground In another system the middle conductor is buried underground, and the current is tapped at intervals by the motor connecting with it for a moment by means of spring contacts as the car travels In each case, however, the outer rails serve as the return conductors

Another system puts one or both the conductors in a conduit underground, the trolley pole entering through a narrow slot similar to that used on cable roads

The first electric carriages for ordinary roads were constructed in 1889 by Mr. Magnus Volk of Brighton. Figure 78 represents one of these made for the Sultan of Turkey, and propelled by a one- horse-power Immisch electric motor, geared to one of the hind wheels by means of a chain. The current for the motor was supplied by thirty "EPS" accumulators stowed in the body of the vehicle, and of sufficient power to give a speed of ten miles an hour. The driver steers with a hand lever as shown, and controls the speed by a switch in front of him.

Vans, bath chairs, and tricycles are also driven by electric motors, but the weight of the battery is a drawback to their use.

In or about the year 1839, Jacobi sailed an electric boat on the Neva, with the help of an electromagnetic engine of one horse- power, fed by the current from a battery of Grove cells, and in 1882 a screw launch, carrying several passengers, and propelled by an electric motor of three horse-power, worked by forty-five accumulators, was tried on the Thames. Being silent and smokeless in its action, the electric boat soon came into favour, and there is now quite a flotilla on the river, with power stations for charging the accumulators at various points along the banks.

Figure 79 illustrates the interior of a handsome electric launch, the Lady Cooper, built for the "E P S," or Electric Power Storage Company. An electric motor in the after part of the hull is coupled directly to the shaft of the screw propeller, and fed by "E P S" accumulators in teak boxes lodged under the deck amidships. The screw is controlled by a switch, and the rudder by an ordinary helm. The cabin is seven feet long, and lighted by electric lamps. Alarm signals are given by an electric gong, and a search-light can be brought into operation whenever it is desirable. The speed attained by the Lady Cooper is from ten to fifteen knots.

M. Goubet, a Frenchman, has constructed a submarine boat for discharging torpedoes and exploring the sea bottom, which is propelled by a screw and an electric motor fed by accumulators. It can travel entirely under water, below the agitation of the waves, where sea-sickness is impossible, and the inventor hopes that vessels of the kind will yet carry passengers across the Channel.

The screw propeller of the Edison and Sim's torpedo is also driven by an electric motor. In this case the current is conveyed from the ship or fort which discharges the torpedo by an insulated conductor running off a reel carried by the torpedo, the "earth" or return half of the circuit being the sea-water.

All sorts of machinery are now worked by the electric motor-for instance, cranes, elevators, capstans, rivetters, lathes, pumps, chaff-cutters, and saws. Of domestic appliances, figure 80 shows an air propeller or ventilation fan, where F is a screw-like fan attached to the spindle of the motor M, and revolving with its armature. Figure 81 represents a Trouve motor working a sewing- machine, where N is the motor which gears with P the driving axle of the machine. Figure 82 represents a fine drill actuated by a Griscom motor. The motor M is suspended from a bracket A B C by the tackle D E, and transmits the rotation of its armature by a flexible shaft S T to the terminal drill O, which can be applied at any point, and is useful in boring teeth.

Now that electricity is manufactured and distributed in towns and villages for the electric light, it is more and more employed for driving the lighter machinery. Steam, however, is more economical on a large scale, and still continues to be used in great factories for the heavier machinery. Nevertheless a day is coming when coal, instead of being carried by rail to distant works and cities, will be burned at the pit mouth, and its heat transformed by means of engines and dynamos into electricity for distribution to the surrounding country. I have shown elsewhere that peat can be utilised in a similar manner, and how the great Bog of Allen is virtually a neglected gold field in the heart of Ireland. [Footnote: The Nineteenth Century for December 1894.] The sunshine of deserts, and perhaps the electricity of the atmosphere, but at all events the power of winds, waves, and waterfalls are also destined to whirl the dynamo, and yield us light, heat, or motion. Much has already been done in this direction. In 1891 the power of turbines driven by the Falls of Neckar at Lauffen was transformed into electricity, and transmitted by a small wire to the Electrical Exhibition of Frankfort-on-the-Main, 117 miles away. The city of Rome is now lighted from the Falls of Tivoli, 16 miles distant. The finest cataract in Great Britain, the Falls of Foyers, in the Highlands, which persons of taste and culture wished to preserve for the nation, is being sacrificed to the spirit of trade, and deprived of its waters for the purpose of generating electricity to reduce aluminium from its ores.

The great scheme recently completed for utilizing the power of

Niagara Falls by means of electricity is a triumph of human

enterprise which outrivals some of the bold creations of Jules


When in 1678 the French missionaries La Salle and Hennepin discovered the stupendous cataract on the Niagara River between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, the science of electricity was in its early infancy, and little more was known about the mysterious force which is performing miracles in our day than its manifestation on rubbed amber, sealing-wax, glass, and other bodies. Nearly a hundred years had still to pass ere Franklin should demonstrate the identity of the electric fire with lightning, and nearly another hundred before Faraday should reveal a mode of generating it from mechanical power. Assuredly, neither La Salle nor his contemporaries ever dreamed of a time when the water-power of the Falls would be distributed by means of electricity to produce light or heat and serve all manner of industries in the surrounding district. The awestruck Iroquois Indians had named the cataract "Oniagahra," or Thunder of the Waters, and believed it the dwelling-place of the Spirit of Thunder. This poetical name is none the less appropriate now that the modern electrician is preparing to draw his lightnings from its waters and compel the genius loci to become his willing bondsman.

The Falls of Niagara are situated about twenty-one miles from Lake Erie, and fourteen miles from Lake Ontario. At this point the Niagara River, nearly a mile broad, flowing between level banks, and parted by several islands, is suddenly shot over a precipice 170 feet high, and making a sharp bend to the north, pursues its course through a narrow gorge towards Lake Ontario. The Falls are divided at the brink by Goat Island, whose primeval woods are still thriving in their spray. The Horseshoe Fall on the Canadian side is 812 yards, and the American Falls on the south side are 325 yards wide. For a considerable distance both above and below the Falls the river is turbulent with rapids.

The water-power of the cataract has been employed from olden times. The French fur-traders placed a mill beside the upper rapids, and the early British settlers built another to saw the timher used in their stockades. By-and-by, the Stedman and Porter mills were established below the Falls; and subsequently, others which derived their water-supply from the lower rapids by means of raceways or leads. Eventually, an open hydraulic canal, three- fourths of a mile long, was cut across the elbow of land on the American side, through the town of Niagara Falls, between the rapids above and the verge of the chasm below the Falls, where, since 1874, a cluster of factories has arisen, which discharge their spent water over the cliff in a series of cascades almost rivalling Niagara itself. This canal, which only taps a mere drop from the ocean of power that is running to waste, has been utilised to the full; and the decrease of water-privileges in the New England States, owing to the clearing of the forests and settlement of the country, together with the growth of the electrical industries, have led to a further demand on the resources of Niagara.

With the example of Minneapolis, which draws the power for its many mills from the Falls of St. Anthony, in the Mississippi River, before them, a group of far-seeing and enterprising citizens of Niagara Falls resolved to satisfy this requirement by the foundation of an industr

ial city in the neighbourhood of the Falls. They perceived that a better site could nowhere be found on the American Continent. Apart from its healthy air and attractive scenery, Niagara is a kind of half-way house between the East and West, the consuming and the producing States. By the Erie Canal at Tonawanda it commands the great waterway of the Lakes and the St. Lawrence. A system of trunk railways from different parts of the States and Canada are focussed there, and cross the river by the Cantilever and Suspension bridges below the Falls. The New York Central and Hudson River, the Lehigh Valley, the Buffalo, Rochester, and Pittsburgh, the Michigan Central, and the Grand Trunk of Canada, are some of these lines. Draining as it does the great lakes of the interior, which have a total area of 92,000 square miles, with an aggregate basin of 290,000 square miles, the volume of water in the Niagara River passing over the cataract every second is something like 300,000 cubic feet; and this, with a fall of 276 feet from the head of the upper rapids to the whirlpool rapids below, is equivalent to about nine million, or, allowing for waste in the turbines, say, seven million horse- power. Moreover, the great lakes discharging-into each other form a chain of immense reservoirs, and the level of the river being little affected by flood or drought, the supply of pure water is practically constant all the year round. Mr. R. C. Reid has shown that a rainfall of three inches in twenty-four hours over the basin of Lake Superior would take ninety days to run off into Lake Huron, which, with Lake Michigan, would take as long to overflow into Lake Erie; and, therefore, six months would elapse before the full effect of the flood was expended at the Falls.

The first outcome of the movement was the Niagara River Hydraulic Power and Sewer Company, incorporated in 1886, and succeeded by the Niagara Falls Power Company. The old plan of utilising the water by means of an open canal was unsuited to the circumstances, and the company adopted that of the late Mr. Thomas Evershed, divisional engineer of the New York State Canals. Like the other, it consists in tapping the river above the Falls, and using the pressure of the water to drive the number of turbines, then restoring the water to the river below the Falls; but instead of a surface canal, the tail-race is a hydraulic tunnel or underground conduit. To this end some fifteen hundred acres of spare land, having a frontage just above the upper rapids, was quietly secured at the low price of three hundred dollars an acre; and we believe its rise in value owing to the progress of the works is such that a yearly rental of two hundred dollars an acre can even now be got for it. This land has been laid out as an industrial city, with a residential quarter for the operatives, wharves along the river, and sidings or short lines to connect with the trunk railways. In carrying out their purpose the company has budded and branched into other companies-one for the purchase of the land; another for making the railways; and a third, the Cataract Construction Company, which is charged with the carrying out of the engineering works, for the utilisation of the water-power, and is therefore the most important of all. A subsidiary company has also been formed to transmit by electricity a portion of the available power to the city of Buffalo, at the head of the Niagara River, on Lake Erie, some twenty miles distant. All these affiliated bodies are, however, under the directorate of the Cataract Construction Company; and amongst those who have taken the most active part in the work we may mention the president, Mr. E. D. Adams; Professor Coleman Sellers, the consulting engineer; and Professor George Forbes, F. R. S., the consulting electrical engineer, a son of the late Principal Forbes of Edinburgh.

In securing the necessary right of way for the hydraulic tunnel or in the acquisitom of land, the Company has shown consummate tact. A few proprietors declined to accept its terms, and the Company selected a parallel route. Having obtained the right of way for the latter, it informed the refractory owners on the first line of their success, and intimated that the Company could now dispense with that. On this the sticklers professed their willingness to accept the original terms, and the bargain was concluded, thus leaving the Company in possession of the rights of way for two tunnels, both of which they propose to utilise.

The liberal policy of the directors is deserving of the highest commendation. They have risen above mere "chauvinism," and instead of narrowly confining the work to American engineers, they have availed themselves of the best scientific counsel which the entire world could afford. The great question as to the best means of distributing and applying the power at their command had to be settled; and in 1890, after Mr. Adams and Dr. Sellers had made a visit of inspection to Europe, an International Commission was appointed to consider the various methods submitted to them, and award prizes to the successful competitors. Lord Kelvin (then Sir William Thomson) was the president, and Professor W. C. Unwin, the well-known expert in hydraulic engineering, the secretary, while other members were Professor Mascart of the Institute, a leading French electrician; Colonel Turretini of Geneva, and Dr. Sellers. A large number of schemes were sent in, and many distinguished engineers gave evidence before the Commission. The relative merits of compressed air and electricity as a means of distributing the power were discussed, and on the whole the balance of opinion was in favour of electricity. Prizes of two hundred and two hundred and fifty pounds were awarded to a number of firms who had submitted plans, but none of these were taken up by the Company. The impulse turbines of Messrs. Faesch & Piccard, of Geneva, who gained a prize of two hundred and fifty pounds, have, however, been adopted since. It is another proof of the determination of the Company to procure the best information on the subject, regardless of cost, that Professor Forbes had carte blanche to go to any part of the world and make a report on any system of electrical distribution which he might think fit.

With the selection of electricity another question arose as to the expediency of employing continuous or alternating currents. At that time continuous currents were chiefly in vogue, and it speaks well for the sagacity and prescience of Professor Forbes that he boldly advocated the adoption of alternating currents, more especially for the transmission of power to Buffalo. His proposals encountered strong opposition, even in the highest quarters; but since then, partly owing to the striking success of the Lauffen to Frankfort experiment in transmitting power by alternating currents over a bare wire on poles a distance of more than a hundred miles, the directors and engineers have come round to his view of the matter, and alternating currents have been employed, at all events for the Buffalo line, and also for the chief supply of the industrial city. Continuous currents, flowing always in the same direction, like the current of a battery, can, it is true, be stored in accumulators, but they cannot be converted to higher or lower pressure in a transformer. Alternating currents, on the other hand, which see-saw in direction many times a second, cannot be stored in accumulators, but they can be sent at high pressure along a very fine wire, and then converted to higher or lower pressures where they are wanted, and even to continuous currents. Each kind, therefore, has its peculiar advantages, and both will be employed to some extent.

With regard to the engineering works, the hydraulic tunnel starts from the bank of the river where it is navigable, at a point a mile and a half above the Falls, and after keeping by the shore, it cuts across the bend beneath the city of Niagara Falls, and terminates below the Suspension Bridge under the Falls at the level of the water. It is 6700 yards long, and of a horseshoe section, 19 feet wide by 21 feet high. It has been cut 160 feet below the surface through the limestone and shale, but is arched with brick, having rubble above, and at the outfall is lined on the invert or under side with iron. The gradient is 36 feet in the mile, and the total fall is 205 feet, of which 140 feet are available for use. The capacity of the tunnel is 100,000 horse- power. In the lands of the company it is 400 feet from the margin of the river, to which it is connected by a canal, which is over 1500 feet long, 500 feet wide at the mouth, and 12 feet deep.

Out of this canal, head-races fitted with sluices conduct the water to a number of wheel-pits 160 feet deep, which have been dug near the edge of the canal, and communicate below with the tunnel. At the bottom of each wheel-pit a 5000 horse-power Girard double turbine is mounted on a vertical shaft, which drives a propeller shaft rising to the surface of the ground; a dynamo of 5000 horse- power is fixed on the top of this shaft, and so driven by it. The upward pressure of the water is ingeniously contrived to relieve the foundation of the weight of the turbine shaft and dynamo. Twenty of these turbines, which are made by the I. P. Morris Company of Philadelphia, from the designs of Messrs. Faesch and Piccard, will be required to utilize the full capacity of the tunnel.

The company possesses a strip of land extending two miles along the shore; and in excavating the tunnel a coffer-dam was made with the extracted rock, to keep the river from flooding the works. This dam now forms part of a system by which a tract of land has been reclaimed from the river. Part of it has already been acquired by the Niagara Paper Pulp Company, which is building gigantic factories, and will employ the tailrace or tunnel of the Cataract Construction Company. Wharfs for the use of ships and canal boats will also be constructed on this frontage. By land and water the raw materials of the West will be conveyed to the industrial town which is now coming into existence; grain from the prairies of Illinois and Dakota; timber from the forests of Michigan and Wisconsin; coal and copper from the mines of Lake Superior; and what not. It is expected that one industry having a seat there will attract others. Thus, the pulp mills will bring the makers of paper wheels and barrels; the smelting of iron will draw foundries and engine works; the electrical refining of copper will lead to the establishment of wire-works, cable factories, dynamo shops, and so on. Aluminum, too, promises to create an important industry in the future. In the meantime, the Cataract Construction Company is about to start an electrical factory of its own, which will give employment to a large number of men. It has also undertaken the water supply of the adjacent city of Niagara Falls. The Cataract Electric Company of Buffalo has obtained the exclusive right to use the electricity transmitted to that city, and the line will be run in a subway. This underground line will be more expensive to make than an overhead line, but it will not require to be renewed every eight to fifteen years, and it will not be liable to interruption from the heavy gales that sweep across the lakes, or the weight of frozen sleet: moreover, it will be more easily inspected, and quite safe for the public. We should also add that, in addition to the contemplated duplicate tunnel of 100,000 horse-power, the Cataract Construction Company owns a concession for utilising 250,000 horse-power from the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side in the same manner. It has thus a virtual monopoly of the available water-power of Niagara, and the promoters have not the least doubt that the enterprise will be a great financial success. Already the Pittsburg Reduction Company have begun to use the electricity in reducing aluminum from the mineral known as bauxite, an oxide of the metal, by means of the electric furnace.

Another portion of the power is to be used to produce carbide of calcium for the manufacture of acetylene gas. At a recent electrical exhibition held in New York city a model of the Niagara plant was operated by an electric current brought from Niagara, 450 miles distant; and a collection of telephones were so connected that the spectator could hear the roar of the real cataract.

Thanks to the foresight of New York State and Canada, the scenery of the Falls has been preserved by the institution of public parks, and the works in question will do nothing to spoil it, especially as they will be free from smoke. Mr. Bogarts, State Engineer of New York, estimates that the water drawn from the river will only lower the mean depth of the Falls about two inches, and will therefore make no appreciable difference in the view. Altogether, the enterprise is something new in the history of the world. It is not only the grandest application of electrical power, but one of the most remarkable feats in an age when romance has become science, and science has become romance.

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