Niagara Falls History - The 1900s

Power dam and power generators In 1886, Thomas Evershed, a New York State engineer submitted a plan for the generation of 200,000 horsepower at Niagara Falls. The electricity could not be transmitted (using direct current ) to the nearest population center in Buffalo, New York, using the technology of the day. The Niagara Falls Power Company offered a $100,000 prize for anyone who could develop a method to transmit electricity long distance. The prize was won by Nicola Tesla, a Croatian immigrant, who created an effective alternating current (AC) transmission system which was commercialized by George Westinghouse.

In 1883, Westinghouse created an illumination system for Niagara Falls using AC current. One of the first electrified street car services was provided in Niagara, and by 1893 the Queenston/Chippawa Railway carried boat passengers from Queenston to Table Rock and beyond. In 1895, the Niagara Falls Power Company contracted the Westinghouse Company for long distance electric transmission development and implementation, including transformers that could handle 1,250 horsepower and overhead wires that can transmit 11,000 volts. On November 15th 1896, the City of Buffalo joined the power grid being generated from Niagara Falls.

In 1885, the Ontario Government legislated that all the land along the shore of the Niagara River between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario be designated as parkland. This delayed hydro-electric development on the Canadian shoreline but soon the Niagara Parks Commission was seeking ways to generate cash flow. The first electricity generated in Queen Victoria Park was at the Niagara Falls & River Railway Power House. The powerhouse was built in 1892 just above the Horseshoe Falls and provided direct electrical current (DC) for the railway, and worked fine until the Railway ceased operationsin 1932.

The Niagara River at Queenston In 1902, a railway was constructed across the Queenston Suspension Bridge. Later it was extended along the lower Gorge on the American side of the River, connecting back into Canada at the Upper Arch Bridge. This transit line, the Great Gorge Route, continued in service until the Depression. The use of boats declined as tourists increasingly chose to visit Niagara by automobile, bus or train.

The Canadian Niagara Power Company (an American based company financed by the Rothchilds, J. P. Morgan, and John Jacob Astor IV) was incorporated in 1892 and built a hydro-electric generating plant about 500 yards above the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian site, and started generating electricity in 1905.

The Ontario Power Company (which became Ontario Hydro) also built hydro-electric generating plant at the base of the Horseshoe Falls just above river level, and began generating electricity in 1905. The fifteen generators produced 203,000 horsepower (132,500 kilowatts) of 25 cycle electric power. Water enters this generating station from an inlet located one mile upstream of the Falls near Dufferin Islands. (In 1999, the Ontario Power Generation Company, the successor of Ontario Hydro, decommissioned the Ontario Power Station from service to accommodate construction of Casino Niagara on the former transformer building site).

By 1901, Niagara Falls had become one of the greatest industrial/manufacturing centers in the entire US.
Hotel construction boomed in the early 1900's and by 1914, more than one million people per year were visitors to the Falls of Niagara.. In 1912, Niagara Falls, New York had a population of 35,000 people. After World War 1, automobile touring became popular. As a response, attractions and accommodations sprang up in strip developments, much of which still survives.

Queenston Chippewa Power Channel In 1902, the Ontario Hydro Commission was formed and during the Ontario Provincial election of 1905, Adam Beck led the Provincial Conservative Party on an election platform of "water power of Niagara should be free". Ontario Hydro became the worlds first publicly owned power authority. While initially it resold others' power, by 1908 it was generating its own power. It began building a new power plant to maximize the total energy from the drop in the Niagara River, by creating a 320 feet (97m) high drop at Queenston, which provides 3 times the power of all the other private generating plants. The water is drawn from the upper Niagara River at Chippawa, and diverted around the Falls via the Welland River and a canal along the top of the gorge. This generating station began producing in 1922 and the ten generators of Sir Adam Beck #1 Power Station produce 403,900 kilowatts of electricity.

Prohibition ended in Canada in 1926. Prohibition ended in USA in 1932. For six years, liquor smuggling became an enterprising yet illegal business.

In 1952 construction began on the Sir Adam Beck Niagara Generating Station #2, which would draw 3 times the water as Adam Beck #1. In 1954, the 16 generators began generaing 1,223,600 kilowatts, making it (briefly) the worlds largest. In 1956, there was a catastrophic collapse that destroyed 2/3 of New York's Schoellkopf Power Station. By 1961, the the New York State Power Authority completed the $800 million Robert Moses Niagara Generating Station who's 13 tubines have the capacity of 2.4 million kilowatts.

In addition to building this power station, the New York State Power Authority built an eighteen (18) mile (29 kms) scenic parkway with an interchange to the Queenston - Lewiston Bridge, and developed the Whirlpool State Park and Devil's Hole State Park along the parkway.

Between 1849 and 1962, thirteen bridges were constructed across the Niagara River Gorge. Four of them remain.


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