New Electro-Motor; Stephen Field inventor; used to be secretary & electrican at EC&M

Frank L. Pope


Publication: St. Louis Globe-Democrat

St. Louis, MO, United States
p. 7, col. 1-2


A great Invention for Railways and the Inventor

Discoveries, Trials, Discouragements, Perseverance and Success—Novel Use of Electricity.

[From the New York Mail and Express.]

The unconscious traveler who passes along the solid flagstone sidewalk in front of the Welles Building does not imagine that beneath his feet are rooms, nicely carpeted and furnished, where gentlemen and ladies attend to the transmission of telegraphic messages. Such is the fact, however, and the offices are among the pleasantest in the city. The walls are brick painted white. The ceiling is flagstones supported by iron beams. The floor is covered with a carpet. Desks and tables, the latter containing telegraphic apparatus of many sorts, are set in various parts of the room, and the light, admitted from above through thick glass, is supplemented by the steady and mild, though brilliant, radiance of several electric lights. To a casual visitor the most remarkable thing in the room is the number of wires there. They come in from above all parts of the room, and hang in unstudied festoons down the walls. Some of them as thick as good a good sized rope and some as thin as a hair. Some are insulated, and others—and these the stranger instinctively avoids—are not. It is a very electrical room.

There are several spiders in this web of wires. The largest one, physically and mentally, sits near the door. He is a solid man between 30 and 40 years old, tall, stout, and weighing not much less than sixteen stone. He has the good nature and easy approachableness which often attend the consciousness of physical strength and the possession of a large number of pounds avoirdupois; and he has, besides, the hand of a mechanic and the brain of an original investigator and practical adapter of means to ends. This young man is worth looking at, for he is the patentee of the first successful electro-motor in the United States. By a decision of the United States Patent Office, rendered last Friday, he was awarded priority of invention over Thomas A. Edison and the Seimens Brothers, and has now sole right in this country to make electric motors involving the principles hereinafter described.


This young man is Stephen Dudley Field. His father, Matthew Field, was a distinguished engineer. In his boyhood he showed a taste for mechanics and for electrical experimenting. He became a telegraphic operator before he was 16, up among the hills of Berkshire County, where, after two removals across a continent, he at last proved the electric railway a success. In his 17th year the boy went with his family to San Francisco.

He was first employed in California as an operator for the California State Telegraph Company. In 1865 he assisted in the construction of the Russo-American Telegraph Line, under the direction of Mr. Frank L. Pope, whom he had known as a boy in Massachusetts, and who afterward, as a patent solicitor, entered his application for a patent on the electric railway. It was in this year that he first learned of the successful solution of the problem of producing electric currents by mechanical means in the magneto-electric, and later in the dynamo-electric machine.


During the year 1868 he constructed two electro-motors. The first—a rough model only—was made from an old magnet, some clock wheels and stray pieces of iron he had picked up in the office. This model worked, and it's success encouraged him to have a larger one constructed under his direction. Experiments with the first model proved to him that a galvanic battery would be too cumbersome and costly a means of producing current ever to become practically useful, and he then endeavored by correspondence to find out the possibility of procuring large power machines.

The object in constructing these first motors was to run street cars in San Francisco. Mr. Field's efforts to obtain a dynamo-electric machine were unsuccessful at the time. In 1971 he associated himself with Mr. Geo. S. Ladd and others in the organization of the Electrical Construction and Maintenance Company, of which he acted for nearly seven years as secretary and electrician. In 1877 he went to Europe, and there, at the work-shop of M. Breguet in Paris, he saw some Gramme machines, which were exactly suited to the purpose of furnishing a current for his electric motor. On his return trip from Europe, two of these machines were ordered by Mr. Ladd, but after considerable delay the Californians were informed that Breguet would not send the machines, being afraid of invalidating some of his patent rights in the United States. Upon receipt of this information, a machine was immediately ordered from Siemens Bros., in London.


At last their hopes seemed about to be realized and the long-cherished project of applying electricity to locomotion was in a fair way to be practically tested, but another disappointment awaited them. The hoped for Dynamo was lost at sea on the way to San Francisco. Nothing daunted by this misfortune, they promptly ordered another machine, and at last, in the fall of 1878, it arrived. At the same time two Gramme machines were placed at their disposal by the Hon. Milton S. Latham. With these experiments were made in a loft on Marked street, and an elevator loaded with 1,500 pounds of coal, was made to ascend and descend by their agency.


The possibility of moving a load, and of controlling and reversing the motion, by means of an electric current supplied by a dynamo machine, was now proved beyond a doubt. In February, 1879, Mr. Field elaborated his plans for an electric railway, and made drawings of a motor which is substantially the same as that afterward put in operation by him at Stockbridge. In may of that year a caveat was filed by him in the United States Patent Office, which covered a claim for an electric tramway motor, the current to be supplied by a stationary source of power, and connected with the rails. By means of a secondary machine on the motor, the current would be converted into power to be supplied to the axles of the car by suitable gearing, and so the car would be propelled. The claim also covered a method of reversing the direction of the electric current.

This was the very first official record of a plan for a dynamo-electric railway.

In July, 1879, at the solicitation of friends, Mr. Field came to New York, and placed the matter of filing an application for a patent in the hands of his old friend, Frank L. Pope. This application was filed March 10, 1880.


Up to this time, the electric railway was all on paper. It was considered advisable by Mr. Pope that a working model should be constructed and operated, so in May of that year Mr. Field began at Stockbridge the building of an electric motor. The machines he first experienced with proved worthless, and he was obliged to stop work until he could procure funds to buy others. This he finally succeeded in doing, and in 1881 the road was in successful operation.


Meanwhile the Siemens Brothers had been experimenting on electric railways in Europe, and had constructed several that worked well on a small scale. Mr. Edison had also been at work on the same problem, and built his well-known little railway at Menlo Park. The inventions of the three investigators clashed, and on applying for patents they came in collision. It was soon found that the application of the Siemens was subsequent to those of both Edison and Field, and it was thrown out. The trial between the two remaining competitors was long and tedious. The testimony was taken two years ago, but it was only last week that the final decision, awarding the priority claim to Field, was announced. The caveat filed in 1879, with its rude accompanying sketch, was shown to be, as he already stated, the very first official report of a plan for operating an electric railway.

Pending the result of the contest in the Patent Office, a consolidation of the Field and Edison was effected in 1883, and the Electric Railway Company of the United States came into existence. One of the vice presidents of the company was also a director in the Chicago Exposition of Railway Appliances, and he promised for the company that an electric railway should be built and operated at that exposition. That was in May, and the Exposition opened on the 1st of June. Only two weeks remained for work. Mr. Field had been engaged in other work, and had not devoted special attention to the mechanical details necessary to operate a road successfully. It was impossible for him to go to Chicago and superintend in person the construction of the road. What was to be done? The hour demanded another man, and he appeared.


Mr Frank B. Rae is now a young man of 30, though he looks at least five years younger than that. At the age of 16 he entered the employ of a district telegraph company in Syracuse as messenger boy.   Within three years he was offered, and accepted, the position of manager of the office. In 1877 he went to San Francisco and succeeded Mr. Field as electrician for the Western Union Company there. His spare time largely was spent in Mr. Field's shop, and together they worked at many things that may yet astonish the world. In 1883 he came east for a visit, intending to stay only two weeks. It was just when someone needed to go to Chicago and build the electric railway, and Mr. Field persuaded him to undertake the job, He had not seen any machine of the kind. There were no working drawings to go by. Many of the details were still to be settled by practical experiment. The Exposition was to open within two weeks, and nothing had been done. It was a rash and daring enterprise. But Rae did not shirk. He went to Chicago and told Mr. J. McGregor Adams, one of the Directors of the Exposition, that if the money was furnished he would build the motor and the road and guarantee its success. Adams told him to go ahead. He did do, and to such purpose that in three weeks the railroad was built and the motor was running on it and pulling a car full of passengers around the building.

The road was in operation thirteen days. During that time 1,588 trips were made and 26,805 passengers carried. That was the first electric railway run for business purposes, and the most extensive and difficult experiment at electric railroading yet made.


In essaying a description of this motor for readers who are unfamiliar with the technical terms involved, only a general idea can be given of the manner in which it works. The power is supplied by a stationary steam engine or other source of energy, such as a waterfall, which runs a dynamo-electric machine. By this machine, the power supplied by the engine is converted into an electric current. This current passes to the rails of the road through wires. The motor has aboard another dynamo machine which converts the current received from the rails back into power. That is to say, it causes an iron rod to revolve, which, by a suitable arrangement of cogs and belts, imparts a propulsive force to the driving wheels of the motor. This, of course, could not be done unless the electric current were completed—a result which is accomplished by means of a third rail, insulated from the other two and between them, from which the current is taken ny brushes reaching down from the center of the motor. In the machine used at Chicago, when it was desired to start the motor, the gearing was placed in position, and when the belts were revolving fast enough, certain moveable pulleys around which they revolved on the axel of the car wheels were gradually fastened, by means of a friction clutch, to the wheels themselves, causing them to revolve. In the construction of another motor, great improvements would be made in this mechanism.

The speed is controlled by a throttle which regulates the force of the current, and which can shut the current off so completely as to bring the motor to a halt. The motion of the car is reversed by a simple device which changes the direction of the current by causing the armature of the dynamo to revolve in the opposite direction.

The cab can be provided with gauges to indicate the strength and pressure of the current. The headlight can be supplied with electricity taken up from the rails. The bell can be rung and the whistle blown by electricity. We have, therefore, motion, power, light, heat, and sound of two sorts, all produced by one agent and controllable at will.


The advantages of electricity as a motive power are so many that it is impossible to enumerate them all within the limits of this article. The most obvious one is that all noise, smoke and cinders are done away with. The importance of this, especially for railways in tunnels or in cities, can not be overestimated.

2. It obviates all danger from explosions.

3. It does away with the necessity for heavy locomotives and for tenders, and allows of lighter bridges and track.

4. The rails are not worn out so fast, as a perfect rotary motion is communicated to the driving wheels; there is no pounding or jumping of the motor.

5. No obstruction can throw the train off the track. The current is neutralized by the obstruction itself, and the train comes to a stop before the obstruction is reached.

6. A broken rail or open drawbridge would break the current, so that the train could not reach the point of danger.

7. By proper arrangement of connections, it would be impossible for any train to proceed to a section already occupied by another train, and collisions would be impossible.

8. Stations and trains could be heated and lighted by the electricity that propelled the motor.

9. Last, and perhaps most important of all, the amount of fuel necessary to run the electro-motor is so small compared with the steam engine that on the score of economy the latter is infinitely preferable. To illustrate: It requires about 2 ½ pounds of coal per hour to develop one-horse power of effective energy in a stationary engine; in a locomotive from 8 to 14 pounds are necessary to produce the same amount of power. Say it takes 10, and the relative economy of the stationary and locomotive engines is as 25 to 100. But 50 per cent of the energy of the stationary engine is utilized in the electro-motor, and it is expected that 75 per cent may ultimately be utilized. At the former figure the relative consumption of coal in the electro-motor and steam engine to produce the same force would be as 25 to 50. A savings of 50 per cent in fuel is not to be sneezed at.

The Electric Railway Company of the United States failed to enrich anyone but its President, Mr. C.W. Rogers, and it is not practically dead, although no formal dissolution has taken place. Mr. Field says he is ready to go ahead and build and run an electric railway for anybody that wants one, and take upon himself the responsibility of settling any difficulty that may arise with the company aforesaid.

This method may be used for all sorts of railways—underground, ordinary street surface and elevated. Elevated roads present the fewest difficulties. The rails are almost perfectly insulated, the distance is not too great, and the grades are not heavy. A perfect success could be made on such roads at the first attempt. For surface street railways, it is necessary to have the conducting rails laid in a slot to that they will not become covered with mud and loose their conductivity.


Keywords:Electrical Construction & Maintenance Company
Researcher notes: 
Supplemental information: 
Researcher:Bob Stahr
Date completed:October 10, 2009 by: Bob Berry;