Long Distance Electric Power Transmission in 1889

Michael Giberson

Alexis Madrigal, writing for WIRED’s This Day in Tech on June 3, gives us, “Power Flows Long Distance.”

1889: The first long-distance transmission of electricity takes place, linking a powerhouse at Willamette Falls to a string of lights in Portland, Oregon, 14 miles to the west.

The power lines stretching from the hydroelectric generator to 55 street lights at 4th and Main heralded the arrival of a major innovation in energy technology. The original design used continuous (or direct) current, not the alternating-current system that eventually became the standard way of transmitting power.

Madrigal links to further background provided by the Willamette Falls Heritage Foundation. The foundation site says:

The high tension transmission line ended at what is now called Chapman Park, located at 4th and Main in Portland, where a bronze plaque still commemorates the momentous event, the first long distance transmission of electricity in the United States.  At 10:00pm on June 3rd, 1889, a switch was thrown in the newly built powerhouse at Willamette Falls, and one of four 32.5 kilowatt “No. 8 Brush arc light dynamos” pumped enough electricity over 14 miles of wire to light 55 carbon arc street lamps in downtown Portland.

By June 10th, another dynamo was connected in Station A, and before the year was over eleven direct-current arc lighting generators were drawing power from the falls and lighting the streets of Portland.  By the end of 1889 Station A was transmitting approximately 4,000 volts of direct current to Portland, with a line loss of about 1,000 volts.

4 thoughts on “Long Distance Electric Power Transmission in 1889

  1. Wow! It is incredible to see how much all these has changed in the last 20 years, I was a little girl back then and the world is totally different.
    The article is fantastic and highly recommended for anyone interested in these topics.
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. This telling of the story is consistent with the way the Edison allies might have spun it. Not only does the article not even mention Tesla, but it incorrectly states that the long-distance transmission was of Edison-preferred DC power. You have to read the source article very carefully to see that the Wired article incorrectly conflates the original 1889 installation of DC generators with the 14-mile transmission of *AC* power that took place after Westinghouse machinery was installed there in 1890. Ooops! Edison’s system never went 14 miles and could never have achieved 75% efficiency at that distance. The Lauffen-Frankfurt line in Germany were created using information gained from Tesla, and of course, the Tesla system was installed for the transmission from Niagara to Buffalo. The article’s link about the Niagara development goes to an article about the *1961* completion of the Moses plant. It’s neither the right plant nor the right time.

  3. Ooops again! Mea culpa. I misread the article myself. The first operation of the 14-mile line was DC, and it lost 25% of its voltage in transmission. But the station didn’t operate a year before it was destroyed by a flood. AC equipment was installed the next year. In the source there is no indication of the relative efficiency of the 14-mile link operating with AC. This squares the account with other sources that made no mention of the DC link.

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