History of William Stanley and Great Barrington AC transmission

[Trade Journal]

Publication: The Journal of Electricity, Power and Gas

San Francisco, CA, United States
vol. 12, no. 8, p. 160, col. 1,2



Mr. William Stanley, the central figure of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers convention recently in session at Great Barrington, Mass, is the man whose achievements gave start to the electrical progress in the Berkshires, which has made that section of Massachusetts famous the world over as the center of development of things electrical.

It was in the town of Great Barrington that William Stanley demonstrated to the world the commercial feasibility of the alternating current system, thus providing the means by which electricity could be served through comparatively small conductors over considerable distances. Today the great transmission feats of California, of which so much has been heard, where electric power is profitably conveyed over a stupendous distance of 220 miles, are the direct results of Mr. Stanley's successfully solving the problem at Great Barrington in 1885. Practically throughout the entire equipment Stanley apparatus is used on the world’s longest transmission lines. Not only are these stupendous feats made possible by the alternating current system, but throughout the whole world electric light and power systems are in vogue supplying two-thirds of all current used which are also the direct evolutions of Mr. Stanley's work.

It was in the spring of 1885 that Mr. Stanley was taken ill and removed from Pittsburg to Great Barrington for his health. When he was able to be about he hired a disused rubber mill located some distance from the center of the town and engaged several assistants to construct the apparatus necessary to demonstrate the system which he had conceived. This work resulted in the building of the plant known to electrical engineers the world over as the Great Barrington plant, by which alternating current at 500 volts pressure was generated and led to the town proper, where transformers were connected and installed for the purpose of lighting part of the business section. The successful operation of this plant was undeniable proof that the means had been found by which electricity could be served over and throughout a large area commercially. It was a year or so prior to Mr. Stanley’s building the Great Barrington plant that he made the acquaintance of Mr. Geo. Westinghouse, who was at that time desirous of getting into the electric lighting field. This acquaintance resulted in the formation of a company which has since become the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company. In the winter of 1890 and 1891, Mr. Stanley organized a company at Pittsfield, Mass, the Stanley Electric Manufacturing Company, for the purpose of making electric apparatus, and the first work that this company attempted was the production of a new type of transformer, which embodied several important improvements over the type then in vogue. At this time there were no alternating current motors, and as there was a great demand for such motors from the electric light stations of the company, Mr. Stanley, with his associates, Mr. John F. Kelly and Mr. C. C. Chesney, undertook the production of a self-starting motor that would give the alternating current system the same advantages that were possessed by the continuous current system when operating continuous current motors. This they accomplished, and the first successful Stanley motors were completed about the early summer of 1892. As the operation of these motors required that the generators which would furnish them with current should provide at least two alternating currents, differing in phase, and as the introduction of the motors was limited by the lack of necessary generators, the Stanley Electric Manufacturing Company proceeded to enlarge its capital and add to its equipment the necessary appliances for the manufacture of alternating current multiphase generators. The machine well known to the electrical men as the Inductor Type was the result of this move. There is now no more efficient piece of electrical apparatus than the Stanley type of electrical generator. In 1894 the Stanley Electric Manufacturing Company installed a multiphase transmission system at Housatonic, Mass, for the purpose of carrying the power developed by water fall between Glen Dale and Housatonic to the Monument Mill Company of that village. This plant operated at 2000 volts and was probably the first commercial installation of the transmission of electricity and its use as power in this country. This plant was followed by the introduction of electricity by many other plants in various portions of this country and in Canada, where many thousand horsepower are being transmitted by the Stanley apparatus. Among these plants are those already mentioned in California.

Mr. Stanley is a native of Brooklyn, N. Y., where he was born December 2, 1858. His electrical work begun with his acquaintance with Mr. Hiram (now Sir Hiram) Maxim, which he formed in 1877, when Mr. Maxim was chief electrician of the United States Electric Lighting Company of New York. Mr. Maxim at that time was one of the foremost inventors in electrical engineering work, and with him Mr. Stanley laid the foundation of his career. After serving a short apprenticeship with Mr. Maxim he was promoted to the position of first assistant, and in that capacity had charge of developing such new work as the company undertook. When Mr. Maxim left the United States to go to the Paris Exposition in 1891, Mr. Stanley resigned from the United States Electric Light Company and was engaged as assistant to Mr. Edward Weston, of the Weston Electric Light Company of Newark, N. J. Later, in 1882, while with the Swan Electric Light Company, of Boston, Mr. Stanley invented and perfected the methods of exhaustion for the incandescent lamp which are now largely used throughout the world, and which helped to make the incandescent lamp the success it is. Prior to the Roebling interests absorbing the Stanley Electric Manufacturing Company, Mr. Stanley organized a company in Great Barrington, the Stanley Instrument Company, for the manufacture of a new and decidedly novel wattmeter. The guidance of this concern's interest is his present vocation, and it may be added that new apparatus of great novelty in electrical engineering is now in course of commercial production at the works of the Stanley Instrument Company at Great Barrington.


Keywords:Power Transmission : Massachusetts : Great Barrington
Researcher notes: 
Supplemental information: 
Researcher:Elton Gish
Date completed:February 8, 2015 by: Elton Gish;