Discussion of Fred Locke's venture and success in manufacturing porcelain insulators


Publication: Ontario County Times

Canandaigua, NY, United States


By Arthur MacDonald


It is an old saying that nature never leaps. This is almost as true as human nature. The early signs of genius, great talent, or that indefinable something that makes one man stand out from his fellows, are varied but interesting to follow. Thus Mr. Locke in his early life in Canandaigua would interest and busy himself at times by painting. Here is manifested the artistic sense, which can be a very useful addition to the faculty of invention.

In his spare moments he would sometimes be seen winding feathers about hooks, making flies for fishing. These he could easily sell, helping to add to his meagre income. He was also an expert fisherman. When in the Canandaigua fishing contests, each competitor starting out early to fish wherever he pleased and returning at night, it would be Locke who would have fish the best in quality or quantity. In fact, it is said he won so many prizes, that they had to bar him from the contests. A successful fisherman must have a certain skill, originality and patience. All these characteristics are found in the true inventor.


An All Around Mechanic


Locke is an all around mechanic, yet he went to the bottom of everything he did, and was usually successful. He had a new idea for improving the pin for the insulator. He showed it to one of his superiors, who laughed at it. But later it was patented by others. Thus, having been cheated out of his idea, he was naturally made more careful in keeping the secrets of his invention.


Spare Time Always Employed


When he was telegraph operator and ticket agent in Victor, his invention faculty was naturally turned to the study of electricity, in which he spent his spare moments in making many experiments. He constructed a dynamo after his own idea and was able to light a mill near by.

In the telegraph office he had often noticed the defects of the insulators during storms and he began to study how to overcome these. There would be much leakage from the poor insulation wherever the wire was attached. His problem was, how to make an insulator that would not let the current escape on account of the moisture forming on the insulator and thus conducting the electricity down the wet pole into the ground.

He made experiments with different clay materials, to find a combination out of which to construct an insulator that would take the place of the ordinary glass one. Some of his first experiments were done in his kitchen stove. After many and persistent efforts he finally found a mixture of clay to make porcelain that would not absorb water, and thus he found the true secret for constructing a good insulator.


Stages of Development


The stages of development by which a man reaches results tangible enough for all to see are usually hidden. Any man who accomplishes any great result works under ground. It is then that a man is put to the test. Poverty may stare at him, things may look dark, his efforts and patience may seem even to him to be thrown away, yet he never gives up. Tenacity is a necessity as well as intellect to the inventor. Thus when Mr. Locke was baking clay in his kitchen stove, keeping his wife awake and doubtless exciting the curiosity of his neighbors by the unusual hours in which a light was seen in his house, some may have thought him strange and visionary. But what sometimes may seem foolish, turns out to be the highest wisdom. For in his kitchen stove, his first kiln, he found the cardinal point in his whole invention a clay combination that would not absorb water. He had toiled night and day, whenever he had spare time, and now the foundation of his success was laid. Having found the mixture he thought was right, he made a small kiln himself and fired this preliminary kitchen-stove combination, proving he could make a porcelain that would be almost a perfect insulator. He then began to manufacture his insulator, on a small scale with only one or two helpers, but so great became the demand for his new invention, that the business grew rapidly until now it is a large manufactory, employing 130 men and sending the insulators to almost every part of the world.

Mr. Locke has equipped with his porcelain insulator the Bay Counties Power Company's long distance power transmission line, carrying power 214 miles, which is the longest in the world.

One great difficulty in carrying power long distances, is the loss of electricity by defective insulation; this loss he has reduced to less than 5 percent, which is admitted to be very low. About 100,000 insulators were required to construct this line, designed to carry 60,000 volts, but tested for 120,000 volts before leaving the factory.

Keywords:Fred Locke : M-2795
Researcher notes:The original used is a 3-page carbon copy of the typed article from the newspaper. The Bay Counties line used M-2795.
Supplemental information: 
Researcher:Elton Gish
Date completed:September 4, 2009 by: Elton Gish;