This section is from "Scientific American Supplement Volumes 275, 286, 288, 299, 303, 312, 315, 324, 344 and 358". Also available from Amazon: Scientific American Reference Book.
Water power in many of the States is abundant and contributes largely to their prosperity. Its proper development calls for the services of the civil engineer, and as it is the branch of the profession with which I am most familiar, I propose to offer a few remarks on the subject.
The earliest applications were to grist and saw mills; carding and fulling mills soon followed; these were essential to the comfort of the early settlers who relied on home industries for shelter, food, and clothing, but with the progress of the country came other requirements.
The earliest application of water power to general manufacturing purposes appears to have been at Paterson, New Jersey, where "The Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures" was formed in the year 1791. The Passaic River at this point furnishes, when at a minimum, about eleven hundred horse power continuously night and day.
The water power at Lowell, Massachusetts, was begun to be improved for general manufacturing purposes in 1822. The Merrimack River at this point has a fall of thirty-five feet, and furnishes, at a minimum, about ten thousand horse power during the usual working hours.
At Cohoes, in the State of New York, the Mohawk River has a fall of about one hundred and five feet, which was brought into use systematically very soon after that at Lowell, and could furnish about fourteen thousand horse power during the usual working hours, but the works are so arranged that part of the power is not available at present.
At Manchester, New Hampshire, the present works were commenced in 1835. The Merrimack River at this point has a fall of about fifty-two feet, and furnishes, at a minimum, about ten thousand horse power during the usual working hours.
At Lawrence, Massachusetts, the Essex Co. built a dam across the Merrimack River, commencing in 1845, and making a fall of about twenty-eight feet, and a minimum power, during the usual working hours, of about ten thousand horse power.
At Holyoke, Massachusetts, the Hadley Falls Co. commenced their works about 1845, for developing the power of the Connecticut River at that point, where there is a fall of about fifty feet, and at a minimum, about seventeen thousand horse power during the usual working hours.
At Lewiston, Maine, the fall in the Androscoggin River is about fifty feet; its systematic development was commenced about 1845, and with the improvement of the large natural reservoirs at the head waters of the river, now in progress, it is expected that a minimum power, during the usual working hours, of about eleven thousand horse power will be obtained.
At Birmingham, Connecticut, the Housatonic Water Co. have developed the water power of the Housatonic River by a dam, giving twenty-two feet fall, furnishing at a minimum about one thousand horse power during the usual working hours.
The Dundee Water and Land Co., about 1858, developed the power of the Passaic River, at Passaic, New Jersey, where there is a fall of about twenty-two feet, giving a minimum power, during the usual working hours, of about nine hundred horse power.
The Turners Falls Co., in 1866, commenced the development of the power of the Connecticut River at Turners Falls, Massachusetts, by building a dam on the middle fall, which is about thirty-five feet, and furnishes a minimum power, during the usual working hours, of about ten thousand horse power.
I have named the above water powers as being developed in a systematic manner from their inception, and of which I have been able to obtain some data. In the usual process of developing a large water power, a company is formed, who acquire the title to the property, embracing the land necessary for the site of the town, to accommodate the population which is sure to gather around an improved water power. The dam and canals or races are constructed, and mill sites, with accompanying rights to the use of the water, are granted, usually by perpetual leases subject to annual rents. This method of developing water power is distinctly an American idea, and the only instance where it has been attempted abroad, that I know of, is at Bellegarde in France, where there is a fall in the Rhone of about thirty-three feet. Within the last few years works have been constructed for its development, furnishing a large amount of power, but from the great outlay incurred in acquiring the titles to the property, and other difficulties, it has not been a financial success.
The water powers I have named are but a small fraction of the whole amount existing in the United States and the adjoining Dominion of Canada. There is Niagara, with its two or three millions of horse power; the St. Lawrence, with its succession of falls from Lake Ontario to Montreal; the Falls of St. Antony, at Minneapolis; and many other falls, with large volumes of water, on the upper Mississippi and its branches. It would be a long story to name even the large water powers, and the smaller ones are almost innumerable. In the State of Maine a survey of the water power has recently been made, the result, as stated in the official report, being "between one and two millions of horse power," part of which will probably not be available. There is an elevated region in the northern part of the South Atlantic States, exceeding in area one hundred thousand square miles, in which there is a vast amount of water power, and being near the cotton fields, with a fine climate, free from malaria, its only needs are railways, capital, and population, to become a great manufacturing section.
The design and construction of the works for developing a large water power, together with the necessary arrangements for utilizing it and providing for its subdivision among the parties entitled to it according to their respective rights, affords an extensive field for civil engineers; and in view of the vast amount of it yet undeveloped, but which, with the increase of population and the constantly increasing demand for mechanical power as a substitute for hand labor, must come into use, the field must continue to enlarge for a long time to come.
There are many cases in which the power of a waterfall can be made available by means of compressed air more conveniently than by the ordinary motors. The fall may be too small to be utilized by the ordinary motors; the site where the power is wanted may be too distant from the waterfall; or it may be desired to distribute the power in small amounts at distant points. A method of compressing air by means of a fall of water has been devised by Mr. Joseph P. Frizell, C.E., of St. Paul, Minnesota, which, from the extreme simplicity of the apparatus, promises to find useful applications. The principle on which it operates is, by carrying the air in small bubbles in a current of water down a vertical shaft, to the depth giving the desired compression, then through a horizontal passage in which the bubbles rise into a reservoir near the top of this passage, the water passing on and rising in another vertical or inclined passage, at the top of which it is discharged, of course, at a lower level than it entered the first shaft.
[Footnote 1: Journal of the Franklin Institute for September, 1877.]
The formation at waterfalls is usually rock, which would enable the passages and the reservoir for collecting the compressed air to be formed by simple excavations, with no other apparatus than that required to charge the descending column of water with the bubbles of air, which can be done by throwing the water into violent commotion at its entrance, and a pipe and valve for the delivery of the air from the reservoir.
The transfer of power by electricity is one of the problems now engaging the attention of electricians, and it is now done in Europe in a small way. Sir William Thomson stated in evidence before an English parliamentary committee, two years ago, that he looked "forward to the Falls of Niagara being extensively used for the production of light and mechanical power over a large area of North America," and that a copper wire half an inch in diameter would transmit twenty-one thousand horse power from Niagara to Montreal, Boston, New York, or Philadelphia. His statements appear to have been based on theoretical considerations; but there is no longer any doubt as to the possibility of transferring power in this manner--its practicability for industrial purposes must be determined by trial. Dr. Paget Higgs, a distinguished English electrician, is now experimenting on it in the City of New York.
Great improvements in reaction water wheels have been made in the United States within the last forty years. In the year 1844, the late Uriah Atherton Boyden, a civil engineer of Massachusetts, commenced the design and construction of Fourneyron turbines, in which he introduced various improvements and a general perfection of form and workmanship, which enabled a larger percentage of the theoretical power of the water to be utilized than had been previously attained. The great results obtained by Boyden with water wheels made in his perfect manner, and, in some instances, almost regardless of cost, undoubtedly stimulated others to attempt to approximate to these results at less cost; and there are now many forms of wheel of low cost giving fully double the power, with the same consumption of water, that was obtained from most of the older forms of wheels of the same class.