On This Day: The First Long-Distance Transmission of Electricity

By Rebecca J. Rosen

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On this day in 1889, electrical energy flowed across power lines from the Station A hydroelectric generator at the Willamette Falls (pictured above circa 1900) to a string of street lights in downtown Portland, some 14 miles away -- the first ever long-distance transmission of power. Six copper lines carried 4,000 watts of direct current. The alternating-current standard we use today wouldn't come along until 1895, when an alternating current ran 22 miles from Niagara Falls to Buffalo, New York. As Alexis Madrigal wrote at Wired, "Before the Portland line, it was not clear how or even if electrical power could be sent long distances. ... Power, the ability to do work, was fundamentally local." With the ability to transmit power over long distances, this changed dramatically, shifting pollution from electrical generation to cities' outskirts, and concentrating the nation's power production in larger and larger power plants, which could feed the nation's need for electricity, even at great distances.

Below, recent Pictures of the Day:

Image: www.oldoregonphotos.com.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/06/on-this-day-the-first-long-distance-transmission-of-electricity/258015/