Electrical Men of the Times; Biographical Sketch of Fred Locke

[Trade Journal]

Publication: Popular Electricity and Modern Mechanics

Chicago, IL, United States
vol. 29, no. 2, p. 174-176, col. 1-2

Electrical Men of the Times



His Hobby Is Insulators, to Which He Has Devoted Over Twenty Years of His Life.
His Hobby is Insulators, to Which He Has Devoted Over Twenty Years of His Life.


A little over 30 years ago an engineer by the name of Marcel Deprez succeeded in transmitting a quarter of a horsepower of electrical energy from Miesbach to the Munich Electric Exhibition. His transmission line was an ordinary telegraph line of iron wire, and direct current was used at a pressure of 1,300 volts. Eleven years later it was demonstrated that 100 horsepower could be transmitted 100 miles, using alternating current and about 8,500 volts pressure. Twenty-three years later, or in this present day, tens of thousands of horsepower of electrical energy may be transmitted with ease over a single line for three or four hundred miles, using the tremendous pressure of 150,000 volts.

And what has made possible this spectacular advance? One word suffices - insulators. As between the armor builder and gun builder, there has been during these 30 odd years, a keen strife between the designer of insulators and the designer of electrical transforming and transmitting of equipment. And, like the armor plate builder, the insulator builder has been hard put to it to keep the pace. When he would get a perfectly good insulator designed and built for, say, 75,000 volts, he would give a sigh of relief and reflect with satisfaction that it would surely "hold them for a while". And immediately there would come the 100,000 volt transformer and a clamor for bigger insulators. This would then result in another feverish search on the part of the insulator man for rare earths, the utmost refinements in methods of mixing and grinding them and baking them into the most resistive of porcelains, and for new and larger designs to hold the enormous voltage and keep the current on the wires.

All though this friendly strife one figure has loomed up large among the contenders on the insulator side. Fred M. Locke, who has lived in Victor, New York, and studied about insulators and built them for the last 20 years, is the man.

We find that he was born in the village of Honeoye Falls, N. Y., on April 24, 1861, the son of William Morton Locke. He is a direct descendant of John Locke, the philosopher; Samuel Locke, an early president of Harvard College; Lieutenant Joshua Locke, who fought in the Revolution on the English force, and who while in battle on Staten Island met and recognized two of his sons who were fighting in the American Army; John H. Locke, of Charlestown, N. H., who was widely known as "The Learned Shoemaker", and who was a geologist of note. It is a fact that for many generations of the Locke family there has been one representative who has distinguished himself and stood out from his fellow-men. Fred M. Locke, the inventor, has surely inherited many of the characteristics of his ancestors, in whom he had just pride.

At the age of nineteen, he became interested in telegraph work, which had been followed by both his father and grandfather, and he thoroughly mastered the business. It was in 1884, while employed as a telegraph operator in Canandaigua, N. Y., that Mr. Locke's mechanical mind began to turn to insulators, and this was brought about in a peculiar manner. Harrisburg would often call Canandaigua on the wire, and although Operator Locke would open his key to break the circuit, this would not be successful. The Harrisburg operator, not getting replies to his calls, made a complaint against the Canandaigua operator. Mr. Locke did not relish this complaint against his work, when he knew he had not shirked his duties, so he set about to discover the reason why the answering calls did not reach Harrisburg. He decided that poor insulation on the line allowed some current to leak over every insulator which formed a return circuit for the calling operator to work on, and as long as he had a current to work on, the Canandaigua operator opening circuit at his station could not break it so that the Harrisburg operator would know it. Mr. Locke concluded that if the insulation on the line was perfect that the trouble would be averted, and he set about to obtain a solution for the problem. Those early days were days of struggles, with every hour away from his telegraph key filled with study and experiment. His kitchen stove served as his first kiln.

In 1884 Mr. Locke married Mercie Peer, of Honeoye Falls, and in Mrs. Locke the inventor has a true helpmate. There are five sons, three of whom are following in the footsteps of their father, grandfather and great-grandfather, and are telegraph operators. After working at the telegraph key in Canandaigua, Mr. Locke went to Victor, N. Y., and it was there that he perfected his porcelain insulator. The present Victor plant grew out of small beginnings. Mr. Locke retired from active work in the plant in 1904, being retained as consulting engineer until this year, when he severed his connections to devote his time to further experimental work.

After briefly studying the business life of the inventor, it will be of interest to know the personality of the man. Quiet in manner and tastes, a deep thinker, but not a talker. Mr. Locke has varied interests away from electricity and chemistry. Fishing has ever been one of his favorite pastimes, and as his success with the hook and line was so phenomenal that he was barred from contests in sportsmen's clubs during his early life, the fact leaked out that this success was due to a special kind of artificial fly which he had studied up. Eventually the man who later accomplished big things added considerably to his early small income by winding feathers about hooks and making his pet flies for sale.

He loves art, and his own brush has turned out some creditable pictures. Another hobby, if such they may be called, has been photography, and his cloud pictures are conceded by the photographic world to be the finest in the country.

Astronomy has claimed much of Mr. Locke's attention and he has a telescope fitted out in his home, and the heavenly bodies are familiar to the inventor. Mr. Locke says that no matter how trying or troubled a day has been, that to look at the stars at night gives him a new outlook and he is lifted out of the sordidness of life. When looking at Jupiter and Mars, this man of many interests says he always forgets the petty meanness of earth.

A fully equipped laboratory is located at the Locke home in Victor. It is an ideal workshop, spacious, light and sunny. Between these four walls Mr. Locke spends possibly his happiest hours. This laboratory is not alone enjoyed by the inventor, but is a family gathering place. Whatever interests there are in the Locke home, the family shares them. Blanche Melverne Phillips.


Keywords:Fred Locke
Researcher notes:An original old typed carbon copy exists for the magazine that was acquired from a grand daughter of Fred Locke. The biographical sketch of Fred Locke was the last written by Miss Phillips. She died a few days after her clothing caught fire from a bonfire at her home in Victor, NY on May 20, 1914.
Supplemental information: 
Researcher:Bob Stahr
Date completed:September 4, 2009 by: Elton Gish;