140 years Ago, Grand Rapids Introduced Electric Power To The World
Today I learned, that back in 1880, the world was introduced to power generated by river currents, right here in downtown GR!
Hydroelectric power, that is, power generated by the movement of a river's current, was all the rage in the early days of electricity.
It was first demonstrated to be a safe, renewable energy source back on July 24, 1880, when the Grand River was used to power arc lights and businesses in downtown Grand Rapids.
The water turbine used to generate the energy for the lights was made for the Wolverine Chair Company, one of the many furniture factories that lined the Grand back in the day.
On Saturday evening, July 24, 1880, the first electric light glowed in Grand Rapids. The customers whose premises were for the first time so illuminated were Sweet’s Hotel, Powers’ Opera House, E. S. Pierce’s Clothing Store, Spring & Company’s Dry Goods Store, Mill & Lacey’s Drug Store, A. Preusser’s jewelry store, and the Star Clothing House. The brilliant new lights proved such a drawing card for the merchants that the demand soon outgrew the capacity of the original installation, and the little machine was moved to Powers’ sawmill at the downstream end of the canal, and the capacity was increased by the installation of a new forty-light generator.
This made Grand Rapids a city of firsts for electric power in the nation and in the world, the following firsts are all credited to Grand Rapids:
First electric company in Michigan March 1880, World’s First Central Station (DC) Hydroelectric Power Plant begins July 24, 1880, First city contracted street lighting in Michigan September 1881, and First Hydroelectric Power Plant in the world November 1881 (This may actually be earlier, such as Spring 1881, research continues).
The power behind the power? A man named Powers, of course. William T. Powers was the man who installed the generator along the Grand that year.In addition to the lumber mill and chair company, Powers also brought sweet things to GR, as his family also owned a candy store, E.K. Powers Confectionery.