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Electrical Beginnings

This Exhibit Contains 10 Items
1
Union Falls, Saco River, ca. 1910

Union Falls, Saco River, ca. 1910

Item 74465 info
Maine Historical Society

As early as 1633, entrepreneurs along the Piscataqua River in southern Maine utilized the force of the river to power a sawmill, recognizing the potential of the area's natural power sources.

Maine's major rivers – the Penobscot, Androscoggin, Kennebec, and Saco – along with hundreds of smaller ones– provided falls and rapids, which, along with dams, could help the settlers capitalize on timber and other natural resources.


2
The town of Falmouth, burnt by Capt. Moet, October 18, 1775

The town of Falmouth, burnt by Capt. Moet, October 18, 1775

Item 6278 info
Maine Historical Society

Europeans, who had used windmills for grinding corn or pumping water since the early medieval period, brought this familiar technology with them when they settled in Maine.

The use of wind power was scattered, and there is not a well-documented historical record, though windmills were certainly in operation in Portland during the 1700s.

A windmill – visible in the middle of this print - stood on Free Street in Portland in 1775 and was used to pump water.


3
Model windmill, West Houlton, 1865

Model windmill, West Houlton, 1865

Item 74466 info
Maine Historical Society

John A. Hubbard (1820-1893) of West Houlton worked as a millwright, farmer, and cabinetmaker. He invented this improved design for a horizontal windmill in 1865 and registered his invention with the U.S. Patent office.

Hubbard’s invention includes a second wheel to help regulate the speed at which the mill turns. This demonstration model includes a reciprocating saw.


4
Hydro turbine and electric generator, 1904

Hydro turbine and electric generator, 1904

Item 75556 info
Maine Historical Society

As manufacturing in Maine increased, so did demand for power. The early forms of water, steam, and wind power were transformed or replaced when electrical technology became practical in the 1890s, and when demand and competition necessitated change.

Later generation of electricity that could be used away from the river itself required a dam on a river where there is a large drop in elevation.

A water intake, or penstock, allows the water to flow through the dam from top to bottom, where it turns a propeller or turbine. A governor controls the amount of water flowing through the system to keep the turbine spinning at a constant rate.

A shaft connects the turbine to a generator, which produces electric current as it spins. Power lines then connect to the generator and carry electricity into the electric grid.


5
Machine shop, Portland Company, ca. 1890

Machine shop, Portland Company, ca. 1890

Item 8070 info
Maine Historical Society

As Maine and the nation industrialized in the nineteenth century, engineers and entrepreneurs increased the scale of their projects and, hence, the size of dams and waterpower systems. Soon, textile mills, paper mills, and sawmills, and a variety of other industrial efforts sprang up along rivers.

By the nineteenth century, effective steam power was available and could supplement water-powered machinery, or provide an alternative to it.

Before electricity, industrial shops and workspaces relied on mechanical power to drive their machines. Whether powered by water, or as in this case, steam, machines had to be arranged in rows so that power could be transmitted by a system of overhead shafts and belts.


6
Telegraph relay, ca. 1900

Telegraph relay, ca. 1900

Item 74468 info
Maine Historical Society

The earliest form of applied electricity was the telegraph, which arrived in Maine in 1848, connecting Portland to Boston.

Using Morse code, a series of long and short electrical pulses unique for each letter, telegraphy sped up inter-city communication.

This relay was used to amplify the signal on long-distance telegraph lines. These relays were usually called "pony relays," though the term "goose-neck relay" was also used, describing the curved shape of the upper contact arbor.


7
Hiram Alden telegram to F.O.J. Smith, 1853

Hiram Alden telegram to F.O.J. Smith, 1853

Item 74467 info
Maine Historical Society

The newly established Maine Telegraph Company, led by superintendent James Eddy and president Hiram O. Alden, completed a 275-mile line between Portland and Calais in 1849.

Hiram Orlando Alden, a Belfast lawyer who served as president of the Maine Telegraph Company, sent this telegram to Francis O. J. Smith, who first linked Maine to the telegraph when he completed a line from Boston to Portland in 1848.

Smith licensed the rights to the Morse patents to James Eddy, who oversaw the construction and operation of the Maine Telegraph system as superintendent.


8
Transatlantic telegraph cable fragment, 1858

Transatlantic telegraph cable fragment, 1858

Item 74510 info
Maine Historical Society

Alden and Eddy went on to make important contributions to the broader telegraph industry. They were early advocates for a transcontinental telegraph line, and were part of the leadership of the American Telegraph Company.

The telegraph provided a first hands-on experience for many aspiring electrical engineers, including Walter Scott Wyman, who later co-founded Central Maine Power.


9
Transatlantic cable fragment, ca. 1865

Transatlantic cable fragment, ca. 1865

Item 74512 info
Maine Historical Society

The segment of cable is a remnant from early efforts to establish a telegraph cable across the Atlantic Ocean, a project inspired in part by Alden and Eddy.

The effort began in 1858 and a working system took eight years to complete due to broken cables and the need to improve signal voltages over long distances.


10
Lancaster Hall, Portland, ca. 1880

Lancaster Hall, Portland, ca. 1880

Item 20260 info
Maine Historical Society

A Western Union telegraph office was located in the Lancaster Block on Congress Street near Market (now Monument) Square in Portland.


This Exhibit Contains 10 Items