Progress in Power Generation

A much more ambitious plan to utilize Niagara’s sheer power began in 1886 by an industrious engineer named Thomas Evershed. He proposed to build a subterranean tunnel that would run two and one-half miles, and house a series of turbines which would produce enough hydro-electricity to power 200 factories in the Niagara area. The Niagara River Hydraulic Tunnel, Power and Sewer Company was formed to begin work on Evershed’s plan, however, they could not secure the funds needed to begin the project, and the company was eventually re-organized and became The Niagara Falls Power Company.

It was agreed that local Niagara Falls businesses would greatly benefit from the proposed subterranean tunnel project, however with the cities small size the majority of power would not be utilized and would simply be wasted. The city of Buffalo which was only 20 miles away would be able to fully utilize the power, however at this time there was no way of transporting the enormous amounts of power that the proposed project would produce. It was agreed that the problem of long-distance travel would have to be solved before Evershed’s dream would be realized.

It was not until the turn of the century that a young man from Croatia, named Nikola Tesla, would invent an alternating current transmission system, which was the key to sending high voltages of power over great distances. Tesla had emigrated from Croatia to the United States in 1884, where he met and befriended George Westinghouse. Westinghouse saw great potential in Tesla’s alternating current system and in 1891 he bought the patent to Tesla’s turbines.

The Niagara Falls Power Company decided to make use of Tesla’s alternating current system and Westinghouse was eventually awarded the contracts to design and install a system to generate alternative current at Niagara Falls. Construction soon began on the new system; a 6,700 foot long tunnel was built underground which housed the turbines, transformers and a transmission line to Buffalo. The transformers could handle over 1,250 horsepower and the overhead cables designed by Tesla transmitted 11,000 volts. In 1895 the Adams Station began operations in the gorge. This would be the first major hydro-electric plant in the world and within a years time the station was transmitting power 32 km away in Buffalo. This marked the first long distance transmission of electricity for commercial purposes.

With the advent of hydro-electric power came the prospect of attracting new industry to the area. Industries such as the electro-chemical and electro-metallurgical industries began to flock to the area, and the area soon became the world leader in these burgeoning industries.