The Institute - December 2021 - 63

to a walking tour of Folsom and the
facility, which is now a state historic
park. After 12 years of mining gold,
however, Livermore became more interested
in building a logging business and
sawmill. He sought to use water wheels
powered by the 48-km-long American
River to operate sawmills and other
industrial plants in the Folsom area. The
river runs from the Sierra Nevada mountains
to downtown Sacramento, where it
connects to the Sacramento River.
In 1862, he and his sons, Horatio
Putnam and Charles Edward, bought
Natoma Water and Mining, in Sacramento,
to turn the dream into reality.
The company owned a network of
dams, ditches, and reservoirs that
supplied water to the numerous gold
mines located around the American
River, according to the facility's website.
In the mid-1860s, the company
started construction on a dam in the
town of Folsom to provide a pond that
would store the logs cut in the higher
foothills before they were sent down
the river to the sawmill.
The company faced several challenges,
however, including finding
affordable labor-which delayed
construction for many years. After
Livermore died in 1892, his sons were
able to complete the project by hiring
inmates at the San Quentin prison.
The brothers saw a business
opportunity larger than just generating
power for the sawmills. Instead, they
set their sights on providing power
to Sacramento with the help of a new
technology: hydroelectric power.
Folsom is 37 km from Sacramento.
Let there be electricity
Although the two brothers didn't
build the first electric power plant
in the world, it was the largest one
at the time and the first to use AC
The Folsom Powerhouse's main
building contained four 750-kilowatt
generators that were each 2.6 meters
tall and weighed more than 25 metric
tons. The generators-manufactured
by General Electric in Schenectady,
N.Y.-were the " largest three-phase
dynamos yet constructed, " according
to an 1895 report in The Electrical
Journal. A 2,896-meter-long
The 750-kilowatt, 2.6-meter-tall AC generators that were used at Folsom Powerhouse
were manufactured by General Electric in Schenectady, N.Y.
canal parallel to the American River,
completed in 1893, provided water
power to the generators through
four dual turbines invented by John
B. McCormick. Each pair of generators
produced 1,260 horsepower. The
turbines were powered by river water
that flowed through four 2.4-meter
penstocks-channels to regulate
the flow that had gates that could be
closed to turn off the water.
The generators' voltage output was
increased from 800 volts to 11,000 by
recently invented Stanley transformers.
The high voltage allowed the electricity
to be sent on a system developed by
Louis Bell, chief engineer of the power
transmission department at GE. If the
AC generators failed, the facility had
two small DC generators as backups.
Horatio, Charles, and Albert Gallatin,
a partner in Huntington, Hopkins
Hardware, formed the Folsom Water
Power Co. It supplied water to Sacramento
Electric Power and Light, which
the three men founded in 1892.
On 13 July 1895, with two generators
in operation, electricity was
successfully transmitted over 35 km of
uninsulated copper wire to Sacramento.
The facility was acquired in 1902 by
California Gas and Electric, based in San
Francisco, and three years later became
part of Pacific Gas and Electric.
The Folsom Powerhouse provided
electricity to Sacramento for nearly five
decades. In 1952 PG&E donated the
powerhouse to California, according to
an article about the facility on PG&E's
blog. The original Folsom dam was
removed to make way for a larger
dam, and the facility was designated
a state historic park.
The Milestone plaque is to be
displayed at the Folsom Powerhouse
State Historic Park. The plaque reads:
Folsom was one of the earliest
electrical plants to generate three-phase
alternating current, and the first using
three-phase 60 hertz. On 13 July 1895,
General Electric generators began
transmitting electricity 22 miles to
Sacramento at 11,000 volts, powering
businesses, streetcars, and California's
The plant demonstrated advantages
of three-phase, 60 hertz long-distance
transmission, which became standard,
and promoted nationwide development
of affordable hydropower.

The Institute - December 2021

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