IEEE Power & Energy Magazine - November/December 2015 - 102

figure 8. A drawing for the Sprague MU patent U.S. No. 660,065, issued to
Frank J. Sprague on 16 October 1900 (image courtesy of John L. Sprague).

figure 9. The Metro-North Railroad M7 train entering the Bronxville, New York,
station on the Harlem Line, July 2006 (photo by Trx4kds on the Wikimedia Commons
freely licensed file repository; used under the GNU Free Documentation License).
102

ieee power & energy magazine

is a series of switches that, like a pilot
motor, can be controlled by a much lower
power level than the switched circuit, but
which is more robust. This has become
a requirement as the horsepower of the
drive motors has steadily increased. This
variation was first introduced in the London Underground in 1901 by the GE subsidiary, British-Thomson-Houston. But
even today it has been in France where
Frank J. Sprague is still most recognized
and revered.
In 1900, Sprague formed the SocieteFrancais-Sprague to promote use of MU
control in the Paris Metro (RaTP). Following a 1903 catastrophic fire involving a
Thomson direct drive electrical system (no
pilot motor) that killed 84, the Paris Metro
began to rapidly shift to a combination of
MU Sprague and Thomson technologies
that employed contactors rather than pilot motors. Fondly named Les Sprague,
the rolling stock ran until retired in 1983.
Even today some more than a century-old
Sprague-Thomson equipment is still used
on maintenance runs and by appointment
only nighttime party runs through long
abandoned metro stations under Paris. During a June 2000 visit to the new spectacular
Paris RaTP headquarters, the author had
the opportunity to "operate" the controls
of a vintage Sprague-Thomson car in the
basement of the building (see Figure 10).
For the 25 July 1932 Manhattan celebration of Frank Sprague's 75th birthday,
he received more than 450 letters of congratulation from heads of state, customers,
competitors, those who had worked with
him, and friends and family. The one that
probably gave him the greatest satisfaction
was from Starling W. Childs, son-in-law of
Charles a. Coffin, president of GE when it
purchased Sprague Electric and its intellectual property in 1902. Childs quotes his
father-in-law: "He looked upon your Multiple Unit Control Patent as about the most
valuable of its patent rights." Continuing,
"General Electric felt that in your work
there was a definitiveness and practicality
which had never been equaled, even by the
'Wizard of Menlo Park'."

For Further Reading
F. Rowsome, Jr., The Birth of Electric
Traction, the Extraordinary Life and Times
november/december 2015



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