Biography of Ralph Mershon

[Trade Journal]

Publication: Electrical Record

New York, NY, United States
vol. 6, no. 3, p. 134-135, col. 1-2,1

Ralph Davenport Mershon



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WHILE Mr. Mershon began his engineering career in railway location and construction work, in advance of his college training, it is in the electrical field that he achieved rank and prominence.

In 1886, at the age of eighteen, he entered the Ohio State University and from this he graduated in 1890 with the degree of mechanical engineer. During the last year of his university course he was student assistant in physics and electrical engineering, and for one year after graduation (1890-91) he was assistant instructor in electrical engineering. During the period from 1891 to 1900 he was employed by the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company at Pittsburgh. While there, Mr. Mershon had experience in all branches of electrical workóresearch work, both theoretical and practical; experimental work, designing, factory engineering, field engineering and installation, patent expert work, and patent experimental work, commercial work and selling. He designed the transformers for which the Westinghouse Company received an award at the World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893.

From 1893 to 1895 he had charge of certain work being done by the Westinghouse Company in connection with the extension of the transmission plant of the Telluride Power Transmission Company, of Telluride, Colo., which was a single-phase alternating current transmission employing single-phase synchronous motors.

In 1896 and 1897 he carried on at Telluride, for the Telluride Power Transmission Company and the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company, an investigation of the phenomena which occur between conductors at high voltages. This investigation was carried out on a. transmission line about two and one-half miles long, and was the first investigation ever made in which quantitative measurements were obtained of the ionization and other atmospheric losses occurring between conductors at high voltages. Original methods of investigation were devised by Mr. Mershon for this work, and special apparatus was designed and built by him, by means of which quantitative measurements were made up to 72,000 volts. At the completion of the quantitative work, the voltage was carried up to 133,000 volts, at that time by far the highest voltage that had ever been impressed on an outdoor line.

Securing leave of absence from the Westinghouse Company during 1897 and 1898, he acted as chief engineer of the Colorado Electric Power Company during the designing and installation of their transmission plant, which generates current by steam at Canon City, Colo., and transmits power at 25,000 volts to Cripple Creek, Colo., a distance of 25 miles, where it is used for mining.

From 1897 to 1900 Mr. Mershon was engineer of the New York office of the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company. During the latter year he resigned to enter upon private practice as consulting electrical and mechanical engineer in New York City, with a branch office in Montreal, Canada.

Some of the more important pieces of engineering work accomplished by him since then are the reconstruction and enlargement of the water wheel, generating, transforming, and transmitting equipment of the Montreal and St. Lawrence Light & Power Company, now a part of the Montreal Light, Heat & Power Company, transmitting 20,000 horse power at 25,000 volts to Montreal, a distance of 17 miles; the design and supervision of the transmission plant of the Shawinigan Water & Power Company, transmitting power at 50,000 volts a distance of 85 miles, to the city of Montreal; the design and installation of the sub-station equipments of the Montreal Street Railway Company, having an aggregate capacity of about 12,000 horse power, for utilizing the power transmitted to Montreal from various hydraulic plants; the design and supervision of the transmission plant of the Niagara, Lockport & Ontario Power Company for transmitting power at 60,000 volts from Niagara Falls to various points in New York State. This latter plant is the largest transmission plant which has ever been undertaken in point of capacity, and is one of the most important in point of distance of transmission. Its present capacity is 60,000 horse power, and it is laid out for an increase to 180,000 horse power. Its longest feeder is at present 160 miles.

Mr. Mershon has invented and patented a number of devices which are being to-day manufactured under his patents, among the most important of which are the following:ó

The six-phase rotary converter for converting alternating to direct current. This invention covers the transformation of current from three-phase to six-phase by means of three transformers and feeding the six-phase current into the rotary converter, resulting in a much larger output than in the case of the quarter phase and three-phase rotaries previously used.

The compounded rotary converter, using an artificial reactance in series with the alternating current side of the rotary converter. The use of a separate reactance in connection with each rotary enables the compounding effect of the series coils of each machine to be effective upon that machine only, without affecting the other apparatus fed by the same circuit.

A system of lightning protection for electrical apparatus, especially applicable to high-voltage circuits. A system of protection against the possibility of fire in the case of installations of oil-insulated transformers.

A compensating voltmeter, enabling the indication at any point of a transmission system of the voltage at any other point, without the use of pressure wires. This device takes account of the resistance, reactance, leakage, and capacity current of the transmission line and of the power factor of the load. Mr. Mershon received from the city of Philadelphia the John Scott medal and premium for this device.

Since 1905 he has been retained on the work of the Victoria Falls Power Company in connection with the steam station which they are installing near Johannesburg, in South Africa, for supplying power to the gold mines of the Witwatersrand, and in connection with the proposed transmission of power from Victoria Falls, on the Zambezi River, Rhodesia, to the Rand, for operation in combination with these steam stations.

Mr. Mershon is the author of a number of technical papers, among which are "The Output of Polyphase Generators and Rotary Transformers," 1895. This paper contained the first published analysis of the effect upon the output of closed coil windings, when the number of phases is varied.

"Drop in Alternating Current Lines," 1897, treating of the calculation of drop and giving a table and chart by means of which such calculations can be quickly and accurately made.

"The Maximum Distance to which Power can be Economically Transmitted," 1904. This paper was presented at the International Electrical Congress at St. Louis in 1004, and was read before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers the same year, in presenting this paper at the International Electrical Congress, Mr. Mershon represented the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, acting as "Delegate from the American Institute of Electrical Engineers to the International Electrical Congress."

"High-Voltage Measurements at Niagara," read before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers June 30, 1908. This paper gives the results of three years of investigation of the ionization and other atmospheric losses occurring between line conductors at high voltages. The work was a continuation of that previously done by Mr. Mershon at Telluride.

Mr. Mershon is a member of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, of which he has been a director and vice-president. He has served on a number of committees of the Institute; has been for a number of years, and is at the present time, 1909, chairman of the Committee of High-Voltage Transmission.

He is also a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Electrochemical Society, the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia, the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers, the British Institution of Electrical Engineers, and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is a member of the University Club, the Engineers' Club, and the Lawyers' Club of New York, and of the St. James Club of Montreal.


Keywords:Ralph Mershon
Researcher notes: 
Supplemental information: 
Researcher:Elton Gish
Date completed:December 8, 2013 by: Elton Gish;