Stationary steam engines, once the prime movers of industry, powered trains, ships, and mills in an age when there was no electric power. By the 19th century, American industry, especially in England, was rapidly outgrowing the capacity of the ater power that had been its principal prime mover. The need for a new power source inspired an intense development of the steam engine, the work of inventors directed mainly at imporving fuel efficiency by reducing steam consumption. The leader in this effort was George H.
Steam and the inexpensive electricity it could produce brought about dramatic technical growth in the United States. Developed during the last century, reliable and efficient steam engines were the forerunners of today's massive generating facilities. A rare survivor of the period, the Pratt facility is the oldest generating plant of its kind in the Northeast and embodies the typical features of engines in a row, open-front marble switchboard, and an observation balcony at street level.
The Port Washington Power Plant of the Wisconsin Electric Company was the most thermally efficient steam power plant in the world for many years following its opening in 1935. Its design reflected the cumulative experience of the utility's engineers in burning pulverized coal at the Oneida Street Plant and the Lakeside Station in Milwaukee.
The La Esperanza sugar mill steam engine is one of the few remaining American links to the pioneer beam engines of the English inventors Thomas Newcomen (1712) and James Watt (1769). The engine was built in 1861 in Cold Spring, New York, by the West Point Foundry. The general arrangement and details, including the Gothic embellishment, are typical of machinery of the period. The straight-line motion of the piston rod is accommodated to the arc of the moving beam end by a parallel motion. Watt regarded this ingenious linkage as the invention of which he was most proud.
On April 21, 1949, a completely outdoor turbine-generator was placed into commercial operation at the Greens Bayou electric power plant--the first fully outdoor unit to operate in the United States. The demand for unprecedented quantities of electricity after World War II pressed utilities to provide addition power quickly. The outdoor design, unlike the traditional large turbine hall, resulted in significant reductions in the cost per kilowatt to build the plant.
This dynamo, connected directly to a high-speed steam engine, was one of six that produced direct current at Thomas A. Edison's electric power station at 257 Pearl Street in New York City. The Pearl Street Station was the prototype for central station power generation. Edison set out in 1878 to provide an electrical distribution system to bring lighting into the home: His first filament lamp lit on October 21, 1879. With the help of Frances Upton and C.L. Clarke, Edison built his engine-driven dynamo for the 1881 Paris Electrical Exposition.
Operated by the Philadelphia Electric Company (PECO), now known as Exelon Corp., Eddystone Station Unit #1 is a 325 MW pulverized-coal-fired plant that pushed the technology of steam-electric generating plants. When built in 1960, engineers sought to make a more efficient plant using higher temperatures and pressures and larger machines. Previous experience at Philo 6 (Zanesville, Ohio, 1957) had demonstrated supercritical steam plants would work, so engineers pushed beyond that frontier to even larger machines and efficiencies.
Wisconsin Historical SocietyEra_date_from: 1918