If someone asked you when the first electricity-generating wind turbine was made in America, what would say? The 1940s or 50s? The very first was constructed long before that.
In 1888, Charles Brush, an Ohio-based engineer, built a 60-foot tower with a 56-foot rotor to generate up to about 12kW of electricity. He had previously been in a business involving electricity, but sold his company to Thomas-Houston, which eventually would become General Electric. By that time he had over fifty patents to his name and had built up enough funds that he no longer had to work fulltime. (He has been credited with the invention of street lighting.)
The 80,000-pound wind generator he built in order to power his mansion on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland. The turbine’s wheel had 144 blades and about 1,800 square feet of surface area. His home had twelve batteries and was the first to have electricity in the city. Incredibly, the wind turbine operated successfully for twenty years and supplied Brush’s home with electricity continuously.
Scientific American wrote an extensive article about visiting Brush’s home in 1890. “In the basement of Mr. Brush’s house there are 408 secondary battery cells arranged in twelve batteries of 34 cells each; these 12 batteries are charged and discharged in parallel; each cell has a capacity of 100 ampere hours. The jars which contain the elements of the battery are of glass, and each cell has its liquid covered with a layer of ‘mineral seal’ oil, a quarter of an inch thick, which entirely prevents evaporation and spraying, and suppresses all odor.”
So, over 130 years ago, Brush had a functional clean energy source and a storage system for his home and private laboratory, where he tinkered and continued building devices.
This interest reportedly began when he was a boy on his parents’ farm. At the age of 12, he built a static electricity machine, using amalgam from a mirror, leather, and a bottle. By the age of 15, he had constructed microscopes and telescopes for school friends.
After graduating from high school with honors, he then attended the University of Michigan, where he also graduated. (He had to borrow tuition money from his uncle, because his parents couldn’t afford it.)
Brush lived in his energy-independent mansion until 1929 when he died from pneumonia. Henry Ford tried to buy Brush’s turbine in 1930 to preserve it, but it was removed to make way for road construction (ironically).
Even in 2014, there are people that are resistant to renewable energy. If the federal government had encouraged wind power development consistently since 1888, even with marginal programs, things might be very different today.