Biography of Frank Rae of Detroit Electrical Works

[Trade Journal]

Publication: The Electrical Engineer

New York, NY, United States
vol. 11, no. 150, p. 327-328, col. 1-2





THE portrait shown on this page is that of Mr. Frank B. Rae, whose electric railway system is being rapidly introduced in different parts of the country. Mr. Rae was born July 25, 1854, at Elmira, N. Y. His father was an English mechanic who had emigrated to this country, and his mother was an American of English parentage. The boy attended the common schools until he was about 12 years old, when his parents removed to Syracuse, N. Y. When fifteen years old he succeeded in securing also about three months in mathematics at the business college, but beyond this he did not enjoy the advantages of regular tuition. At the age of sixteen Rae obtained a position as messenger boy with the Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company, at Syracuse. He manifested considerable aptitude for telegraphic work, and after carrying messages for only a month or two, was made batteryman and repairer for the division. Mr. Rae had served perhaps a month or so in this capacity when he was pulled from a thirty-foot pole by a horse car and slightly injured. He has, since that time, taken noble revenge by doing his share in banishing the horse car from our streets. The immediate result of the accident was that it gave him an opportunity to learn practical telegraphy, and upon his recovery he became a railroad operator upon the New York Central Road. In 1872 Mr. Rae returned to the Atlantic and Pacific Company, at Albany, and later was installed at Syracuse as manager. In 1874 he became associated with the Western Union Telegraph Company, in this city, and learned to operate the printing instruments. In 1876, in connection with Mr. C. H. Davis, he published a very useful book of "Diagrams and Connections." This literary effort attracted attention and helped him to obtain a position in San Francisco as quadman. The work that he did there in making the then new system successful, came to the notice of President Orton while that gentleman was visiting the Pacific Coast, and Mr. Rae was appointed electrician for the Western Union Company in that Division. He served in this capacity until 1B79 or 1880, when he went into the employ of the Brush Electric Light Company, of San Francisco, and in 1883 be took charge of the Brush plant at San Jose, where he erected one of the first high towers used for city lighting.




In February of 1883, Mr. Rae came East to obtain some patents on devices that he had invented, and had the good fortune to meet Mr. Stephen D. Field, with whom he had already been acquainted in San Francisco. It bad been his intention to return to the Coast, but he was induced by Mr. Field to remain in New York. In 1883 he was sent by Mr. Field to Chicago to build the electric railway for the Chicago Exposition of Railway Appliances, and there, with Messrs. Mailloux and Healy, he put in operation the road equipped with the motor "The Judge, which, during the continuance of the exposition, a period of two weeks, carried nearly 27,000 passengers. The road was about one-third of a mile long, and the track was laid on the third rail plan. The average speed maintained was eight miles an hour. This practical piece of work attracted considerable attention, and was followed up by the operation of "The Judge" immediately after at the Louisville Exposition, where Mr. Rae also had charge of the work.

Returning to New York, Mr. Rae was associated with Mr. Field in the perfection of the Field system of stock printing telegraphs, acquired and operated by the Commercial Telegram Company, and Mr. Rae, for some time, was in charge of the large central office at the foot of Broadway. Having put this plant in successful operation, Mr. Rae went into the electrical engineering business with Mr. C. O. Mailloux, and then became electrician, in 1886, for J. H. Bunnell & Co., of this city.

At this time a very tempting offer was made to him in connection with the celebrated Barker-Mitkiewicz concession in China, and he was one of the electrical engineers dispatched by Count Mitkiewicz to the Celestial Empire to bestow on the Chinaman the blessings of telephony and other modern electrical inventions. Mr. Rae proceeded, by way of Suez, to China, and after a stay in that country, which was very brief, owing to the failure to convince the Chinese that they wanted any of the Mitkiewicz blessings, Mr. Rae finished his circumnavigation of the globe by returning home via San Francisco. He had barely landed in this country before lu- was summoned to Chicago to apply the dynamo to the .stock printing telegraph system of the Western Union Company. While there he was employed as an expert to report upon the electric railway system of the Detroit Electrical Works, and did his work in such a satisfactory manner that In' was subsequently requested by the Detroit concern to undertake for them the production of a new system. He consented, and in November, 1888, settled in Detroit, assuming charge of the inventing and electrical engineering of the railway department of the Works Since that time the Rae system has become very widely known, and it is now in use on a large number of roads, in such cities as Cleveland, Galveston, Columbus, O; Portland, Oregon; Colorado Springs, Detroit, Fort Worth, East Reading, Pa.; Joliet, Ill.; while contracts have also been taken for Rochester, South Chicago, Elkhart, Ind.; Adrian, Mich.; Decatur, Ill.; Kansas City, Nashville, Tenn.; Aurora, Ill.; Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.; Springfield, Ill.; Springfield, Mo., and other places. There are a great many individual and distinctive elements in the Rae railway system, and one of the most notable features, to which Mr. Rae has steadfastly adhered, is that of equipping each car with but one motor, the motor being suspended lengthwise the car and driving upon each axle equally by means of bevelled gear, so that there is a material reduction in gearing and in number of wearing parts.

Enough will have been said to show, that in spite of the fact that Mr. Rea is still quite a young man, he has had a very active, eventful and noteworthy career. It may be stated, moreover, that in addition to his motors and railway system, he has invented a number of electrical appliances and devices, among which may be mentioned the Rae "Horn ammeter," illustrated and described in our columns last year.


Keywords:Detroit Electrical Works
Researcher notes: 
Supplemental information: 
Researcher:Bob Stahr
Date completed:January 25, 2011 by: Elton Gish;