IEEE Power & Energy Magazine - November/December 2015 - 92

switch and the car came to a screeching
halt just below the top sheaves. It was
an eerily silent, slow ride back down as
each passenger grappled with what had
just happened. and never again would
Frank Sprague operate any such equipment without the necessary safety devices in place.

Vertical Multiple Unit
One Sunday some months later with the
elevator installation nearing completion,
instead of being home with his wife and
young son, Frank Sprague was working
alone at the site. In the spring of 1885,
he married a beautiful young southern
belle named Mary Keatinge, and their
son, Desmond, was born three years later.
While Mary wanted an active social life,
Frank was consumed with work, and in
time their marriage slowly disintegrated.
although Frank and Mary were amicably divorced in 1895, Desmond remained
close to Frank. He grew up to become a
competent Cornell University-trained engineer and worked for his father in several
different capacities. at the tender age of
ten he was at the controls of a multiple
unit (MU) demonstration train to show the
important visitors from Chicago just how
simple it was to operate his father's new
invention. Of Frank Sprague's three sons
by two marriages, Desmond remained his
father's favorite.
With no one else around, Frank had
abandoned his usual coat, vest, and tie
and was working with his shirt sleeves
rolled up. He was slim. Since he had always worked with his hands, they were
hardened and rough and, along with his
sinewy forearms, surprisingly powerful, more like a boxer than an electrical
inventor. While at the Naval academy,
much larger upperclassmen, intent on
knocking some sense and respect into
this cocky plebe, had found this much
more difficult than expected and soon
learned to leave him alone.
although the six elevators had been
running smoothly all the previous week,
he wondered what would happen if they
all started up at once. He couldn't be in
each one at the same time, so he rigged
up a simple circuit where a single controller operated all six of the small pilot
92

ieee power & energy magazine

motors that drove the heavier controllers
of each elevator. Soon he had all the elevators running smoothly up and down
together, at least until they began to get
out of synchronization. Then having answered his question, he removed the circuit and turned to other tasks. It is unclear
just when he realized the importance of
what he had just done, but it soon would
become his most important invention.

figure 2. Frank J. Sprague, circa 1895
(photo courtesy of John L. Sprague).

The Postal Telegraph elevator installation was formally accepted in april
1894 with a glowing testimonial that the
Sprague-Pratt elevator "would eventually prove as great an advance over the
hydraulic elevator as the hydraulic did
over the steam elevator." and while
Frank would continue to grow his elevator company, he was about to embark on
the adventure of a lifetime.

The Father of Electric
Traction
Frank Sprague's ancestors came to New
England in 1629 from Upwey in Dorset,
England, when Ralph Sprague and five
family members sailed on the Lion's
Whelp and landed in Salem, Massachusetts. They first settled in Charlestown
and then spread out across New England. They were good, hard-working
citizens, but none showed the creative
genius that blossomed nearly 250 years
later in one of their descendents.

Frank Julian Sprague was born on
27 July 1857 in Milford, Connecticut.
His life was thrown into early turmoil
when his mother suddenly died seven
years later, and his father left to find his
fortune in the West, sending Frank and
his younger brother, Charley, to live in
North adams, Massachusetts, with his
aunt ann. He grew up there and attended Drury academy where he excelled
in math and science. He then earned an
appointment to the U.S. Naval academy, entering in 1874 and graduating
in 1878, having shown great technical
skills. He decided on a lifetime in the
exciting new world of electricity after
attending the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. Commissioned an
ensign in 1880, he earned notoriety
with an extraordinary 1882 report ("Report on the Exhibits at the Crystal Palace Electrical Exposition") as secretary
of the Jury of awards.
While in London, he met two of
Thomas Edison's employees, William
Hammer and Edward Johnson, who
urged him to join them in Edison's
famous Menlo Park laboratory. Resigning from the Navy in July 1883,
he started working for Edison on electrical power distribution systems for
incandescent lighting. He and Edison
soon clashed, and after only 11 months
he resigned to go out on his own, forming a series of companies over the next
15 years that would solidify his position as one of the greatest electrical inventors of all time (see Figure 2).
The Sprague Electric Railway and
Motor Company (SERM) was incorporated in late 1884 to commercialize the
world's first constant speed nonsparking direct current (dc) motors. Then in
1888, SERM successfully completed
the world's first commercial electric
street car system in Richmond, Virginia, radically changing the urbanization process around the world. The
installation was recognized in 1992 as
an IEEE Milestone in Electrical Engineering, having been nominated by
the IEEE Richmond Section. In 1889
SERM was bought by Edison General
Electric (EGE), which soon merged
with Thomson-Houston and, led by
november/december 2015



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