The Beginnings of Hydro-Electric Power

In 1805 two entrepreneurial brothers named Augustus and Peter Porter purchased the American Falls and surrounding area from the New York state government. They set out to enlarge the original canal in order to provide enough power to run their gristmill and tannery.

It would not be until the late 1800s that the first major project to harness Niagara’s power occurred. Augustus Porter had proposed building a hydraulic canal that bypassed the Falls and led to a large reservoir before flowing to turbines that were connected to industrial machinery above. Unfortunately Porter passed away before his dream of building a hydraulic canal became a reality. Several companies attempted unsuccessfully to build the canal, many of them filing for bankruptcy in the process.

In 1860 the Niagara Falls Hydraulic Power and Manufacturing Company began construction of the canal and it was completed in 1861. By 1881 a generating station began producing a small amount of electricity, which powered several mills. Within two years the company filed for bankruptcy.

A Buffalo businessman named Jacob Schoellkopf purchased the existing hydraulic canal and greatly improved it, and in 1882 the canal was completed and began powering seven local mills. Schoellkopf next built a small powerhouse that powered 16 street lamps in Niagara Falls, New York.