Published on June 22nd, 2014 | by Jake Richardson


America’s First Wind Turbine Generated Electricity In 1888

June 22nd, 2014 by  

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.

Image Credit: Public Domain

Image Credit: Public Domain

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.”

Image Credit: Scientific American

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.

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About the Author

Hello, I have been writing online for some time, and enjoy the outdoors. If you like, you can follow me on Google Plus.

  • jeffhre

    “The 80,000-pound wind generator he built in order to power his mansion on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland.”

    “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).”

    Ironic! Didn’t Rockefeller also live in a home on Euclid Ave while he was building up his own business?

  • wattleberry

    Thank goodness for these reprises-I didn’t have ‘net access when this went out. This is inspiring and depressing and may be another facet of the ‘future shock’ afflicting mankind since the apparently miraculous technological explosion emanating from the [First] Industrial Revolution whereby our slowly evolving mentality had great difficulty in accepting what was going on.
    This appears to have manifested itself in a ‘partial’ recognition of change whereby the great benefits becoming available were more readily absorbed if they were accompanied by less challenging reliance on the well-established industries such as mining and extraction of other fossil fuels; the further revelation that this could be achieved in other ways, themselves part of developing technology, could have just been too much to take and therefore ignored.
    As always,education improvements are the only way of stimulating the evolution of our minds if not our brains.

  • Larry

    It’s a pathetic shame how the fossil fuel industry in tandem with government ignorance and/or complicity has maintained a dirty energy industry for over 100 years

  • jburt56

    Yep, the “Wind don’t blow” problem was solved in 1888.

  • Reputation Saviors

    Who’s Generator/Alternator did they use. Edison’s/GE’s weren’t working, so they hired Nikola Tesla. Then after fixing the DC generators, Edison stole $1M from Tesla. I think Tesla did a whole lot more than those fools in 1888. U.S. Patent 0,334,823 – Commutator for Dynamo Electric Machines – 1886 January 26 – Elements to prevent sparking on dynamo-electric machines; Drum-style with brushes.
    U.S. Patent 0,335,786 – Electric Arc lamp
    – 1886 February 9 – Arc lamp with carbon electrodes controlled by
    electromagnets or solenoids and a clutch mechanism; Corrects earlier
    design flaws common to the industry.
    U.S. Patent 0,335,787 – Electric arc lamp – 1886 February 9 – Arc lamp’s automatic fail switch when arc possesses abnormal behavior; Automatic reactivation.
    U.S. Patent 0,336,961 – Regulator for dynamo electric machines – 1886 March 2 – Two main brushes connected to helices coil ends; Intermediate point branch shunt connection for third brush.
    U.S. Patent 0,336,962 – Regulator for Dynamo Electric Machines
    – 1886 March 2 – Auxiliary brush[es] shunting a portion or whole of the
    field helices coil; Regulates energy flow; Adjustable level of current.
    U.S. Patent 0,350,954 – Regulator for Dynamo Electric Machines – 1886 October 19 – Automatic regulation of energy levels; Mechanical device to shift brushes.
    U.S. Patent 0,359,748 – Dynamo electric machine
    – 1887 March 22 – Improve construction; Facilitate easier construction;
    Reduce the cost; Magnetic frame; Armature; Alternating current
    synchronous motor.

    381968 – Electro magnetic motor

    U.S. Patent 0,381,968 – Electro magnetic motor
    – 1888 May 1 – Mode and plan of operating electric motors by
    progressive shifting; Field Magnet; Armature; Electrical conversion;
    Economical; Transmission of energy; Simple construction; Easier
    construction; Rotating magnetic field principles.
    U.S. Patent 0,381,969 – Electro Magnetic Motor
    – 1888 May 1 – Novel form and operating mode; Coils forming independent
    energizing circuits; Connected to an alternating current generator;
    Synchronous motor.
    U.S. Patent 0,381,970
    – System of Electrical Distribution – 1888 May 1 – Current from a
    single source of supply in the main or transmitting circuit induce by
    induction apparatus; Independent circuit(s); Electric distributor.
    U.S. Patent 0,382,279 – Electro Magnetic Motor – 1888 May 1 – Rotation is produced and maintained by direct attraction; Utilizes shifting poles; Induction magnetic motor.
    U.S. Patent 0,382,280 – Electrical Transmission of Power
    – 1888 May 1 – New method or mode of transmission; Dynamo motor
    conversion with two independent circuits for long distance transmission;
    Alternating current transmission; Includes a disclaimer; Economic;
    U.S. Patent 0,382,281 – Electrical Transmission of Power
    – 1888 May 1 – Improvements in electromagnetic motors and their mode or
    methods of their operations; Motor is wound with coils forming
    independent circuits on the armature; Armature is mounted to rotate
    between two different poles; Armature will eventually synchronize with
    that of the generator; Windcoils or coils on the field magnets; Expose
    to continuous current to maintain a permanent field.
    U.S. Patent 0,382,282 – Method of Converting and Distributing Electric Currents
    – 1888 May 1 – Related to electric distribution systems; Current is
    from a single main source or suitable transmitting circuit; Induction
    into an independent circuit; Divide the current from a single source;
    Transformations; Discovery of method to avoid prior liable and dangerous
    methods; True Dynamic induction.
    U.S. Patent 0,382,845 – Commutator for dynamo electric machines
    – 1888 May 15 – Relates to dynamo-electric machines or motors;
    Improvements on devices to collect or communicate currents; Avoids
    destruction and wear of machine; Avoid adjustments due to destruction
    and wear; Enable practical construction of very large dynamo electric
    machines or motors with the minimum number of communicator segments;
    Increases safety and efficiency.
    U.S. Patent 0,390,413 – System of electrical distribution
    – 1888 October 2 – Related to previous electric distribution systems
    developed by Tesla; Examples of systems in operation with motors or
    converters, or both, in parallel; Examples of systems in parallel;
    Examples of systems in series.
    U.S. Patent 0,390,414 – Dynamo Electric Machine
    – 1888 October 2 – Related to the patents of Tesla and Charles F. Peck,
    numbers: US381968 and US382280; Ordinary forms of continuous and
    alternate current systems may be adapted to Tesla’s system, with slight
    changes to the systems; Effects their forms; Only the best and most
    practical solutions are presented to the three most common forms of the
    devices applicable; Illustrated are the continuous (or closed) circuit
    machines, machines possessing armatures with coils connected
    diametrically (known as “open-circuits”), and machines with
    armature-coils of which have a common joint.
    U.S. Patent 0,390,415 – Dynamo Electric Machine or Motor
    – 1888 October 2 – Improvement in the construction of dynamo or magneto
    electric machines; Novel form of frame and field magnets that renders
    the machine more sturdy and compact as a structure; Requires fewer
    parts; Less difficulty in construction; Lower expense; Useful to
    alternating and continuous current machines.
    U.S. Patent 0,390,721 – Dynamo Electric Machine
    – 1888 October 9 – Relates chiefly to the alternate current machine
    invented by Mr. Tesla; Related to patents numbered US381968 and
    US382280; Seeks to avoid mechanical drawback of running high frequency
    machines; Efficient at low speeds; Producing rotating magnetic poles in
    one element of the machine and drive the other at a different speed.
    U.S. Patent 0,390,820 – Regulator for Alternate Current Motors
    – 1888 October 9 – Improvement in the electrical transmission systems;
    Means of regulating and power of the motor or motors; Used with system
    of multiple motors primarily (or systems with motors and transformers)
    that have independent energizing circuits which act to set up
    progressive or shifting magnetic poles (i.e. the rotating magnetic
    field); Controls the speed of the motor.
    U.S. Patent 0,396,121 – Thermo Magnetic Motor
    – 1888 January 15 – Widely known that heat applied to a magnetic body
    will lessen its magnetizing ability; High enough temperatures will
    destroy the magnetic field; Mechanical power by a reciprocating action
    obtained from the joint action of heat, magnetism, and a spring or
    weight (or other force); In this patent, the application of heat to a
    body that is magnetized by induction or otherwise to the action of heat
    until the magnetism is neutralized to allow a weight or a spring to give
    action and lessen the action of the heat to restore the magnetic effect
    to move the body in the opposite direction.

    • jeffhre

      Tesla did not have the money and support to continue his later experiments to work as he chose. In fact he died with very littlle.

      Tesla was said to be on is way to becoming the worlds first billionaire (not relatively but an actually billion, 100 years ago!) when George Westinghouse burst into his office and said that the contract Tesla was so rich that it would bankrupt the company. Tesla it was claimed, agreed to void the contract.

  • Steven F

    the first utility scale wind turbin in the US, 1.25MW was the Smith-Putnam wind turbin. It was built in 1941.

  • Djohntheone

    Took us only 10 years to go from 1,673 to 16,816 MW.

    • Offgridmanpolktn

      The last paragraph restates one of my opinions perfectly. If the growth you speak of happened in ten years can you imagine where we would be if it had been going on for 120. Our environment and industries could be so much cleaner and more successful with inexpensive electricity. And our society could be much more fair to all with power being provided at a very minimal cost like some water utilities, if not gratis.

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