Zambesi-Johannesburg transmission line

[Trade Journal]

Publication: Western Electrician

Chicago, IL, United States
vol. 42, no. 11, p. 213, col. 2-3


Zambesi- Johannesburg Transmission.

On March 4th the Pitisburg Section of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers held the largest and most interesting meeting of the season in the Carnegie Institute Lecture Hall. The meeting was unusually successful from a social point of view, there being a large number of prominent engineers and other professional men present, making an audience of over 400. Just preceding the meeting an enjoyable informal dinner was held at the University Club, 65 members being present, who represented some of the largest industries in the Pittsburg district. Among them were Mr. Davis of the Aluminum company, Mr, Keller of the Westinghouse Machine Company, Mr. Uhlenhaut of the Pittsburg Railways Company, Mr. Orr of the Allegheny County Light Company, Mr. Longbranch of the Western Electric Company, Mr. Paul Lincoln of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, Mr. Grace of'the Bell Telephone Company, and Mr. Gibbs of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company.

Mr. C. E. Skinner, chairman of the section, introduced Mr. Ralph D. Mershon of New York, the speaker of the evening, and called attention to the fact that Mr. Mershon is an old Pittsburger and that he used to surprise his colleagues with his mathematical ability, one of his specialties being the binomial theorem, upon which he had written an essay.

Mr. Mershon said that he and the audience were brought together under false pretenses. First, he had been asked to give an informal talk before a few members of the society, while, secondly, there was no Zambesi-Johannesburg transmission, and not likely to be any for several years. However, he had collected some pictures upon which he would talk.

While Mr. Mershon gave very little data in figures, he showed that he had considered thoroughly the business and labor conditions which often count more in engineering than figures. Merely a beginning has been made in tapping the mineral wealth of the country and nobody knows how great it is. The Victoria Falls Power Company is a company formed of British capitalists for the purpose of transmitting power from Victoria Falls (the African Niagara) on the Zambesi River to Johannesburg, a distance of 700 miles, for use in mining gold. Mr. Mershon was retained by this company, with several European engineers, to make a report on the feasibility of such transmission. The European engineers reported favorably on the direct-current (Thury) system, while Mr. Mershon favors an alternating-current system, which will eventually be installed.

For the present, Mr. Mershon has advised installing generating stations operated by steam on the Rand, near Johannesburg, and by that means build up a market for electrical energy. At present the actual power used along the Rand is 85,000 horsepower, with prospects that it will be largely increased before long. The idea is that after the mine owners become accustomed to the use of electric power and the market is assured the transmission power plant and line can be built for conveying the power from the falls, and it will not be necessary to carry a heavy investment for a long time with only a partial earning capacity.

Kaffir labor is quite good, but very peculiar. Laborers get two shillings and bosses 1 a day. Even at this, it is said that white labor is equally as cheap. General Botha, who employs a great deal of Kaffir labor, gave Mr. Mershon full details of all troubles he would have to contend with.

Victoria Falls are on the Zambesi River at a point where the river is a mile wide, and there is an ideal location for a power house and raceway where the river makes a sharp bend. The Rhodesia Railway (forming a portion of the so-called Cape to Cairo Route) at present extends 400 miles north of the falls and crosses the Zambesi River at the falls by a magnificent bridge 600 feet long and 400 feet above the river. The height of the falls is 400 feet, or two and one-half times as high as Niagara, and the spray rises to a height of 2,000 feet. It has been calculated that at least 300,000 horsepower is developed by the falls at low water. The amount of water passing over the falls varies greatly at different seasons of the year. There is a deep gorge below the falls and a pool which is so deep that so far it has not been sounded. The pictures Mr. Mershon showed told a story in themselves.

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Keywords:Ralph Mershon
Researcher notes: 
Supplemental information: 
Researcher:Bob Stahr
Date completed:October 5, 2009 by: Bob Stahr;