The U.S. Evolution of Hydroelectric Power Plants: Origins

Importance of Waterpower or Hydropower

Since ancient times civilization has mostly developed on the banks of a river, which have become an integral part of the human race. There have been a number of disputes and even wars between nations over the waters of the rivers. People living in upstream areas of the river tend to use river water lavishly, affecting the humans, plants and animals in downstream areas.

Water was earlier used for operating various machines like water wheels, but from that the technology of the dams evolved. Most of the dams in the U.S. were constructed for controlling the floods, improving navigation between various parts of the nation, for recreational purposes and most importantly for the irrigation of agricultural lands. During the Industrial Revolution water power became very important. By the year around 1861, the period of Civil War, water power was the major part of the industrial power. This water power was soon going to experience a large change in the form of hydroelectric power.

Evolution of Hydroelectric Power in US

Three important events of human history marked the evolution of hydroelectric power in the U.S. in the early twentieth century. These were:

1) The development of the electric generator for generating electricity.

2) Lots of improvement in the design and construction of hydraulic turbines.

3) Greater demand for electricity.

To meet the growing demands of power and take the benefits of improved technology, in the year 1882 the first commercial hydroelectric power plant was developed in the U.S. on Fox River, in Appleton, Wisconsin. The capacity of this plant was 12.5KW (yes you read it right: 12.5 KW and not MW). This hydroelectric power plant was aimed to provide power to two paper mills and a residence. This was only the beginning by H. F. Rogers, the owner of the paper mills, who was encouraged by Thomas Edison’s plans to develop an electric power station in New York.


Development of Hydroelectric Power Plants in US

Soon the commercial companies started developing small hydroelectric power plants in the mountainous regions around metropolitan areas. It will be surprising to know that by the year 1920, around 40% of the U.S.’s electric power demands were met by hydroelectric power plants. The development of hydroelectric power plants was greatly enhanced and supported by creation of Federal Power Commission in the year 1920.

When larger hydroelectric power plants were developed, they were found to be more cost effective. The studies showed that hydroelectric power needed federal support to compete with the other types of power generating plants. By the year 1933 it was also realized that besides power generation, the hydroelectric power plants greatly help in controlling floods, navigating between cities, and irrigation.

With so many benefits of the hydroelectric power plants, the government created the Tennessee Valley Authority in the southeastern United States. The main aim of this agency was to develop large scale hydroelectric power plants. During the same period, in the year 1937, in the Pacific Northwest, the government created the Bonneville Power Administration, whose main focus was electrification of farms and small communities with public power.



Water Encyclopedia

This post is part of the series: Hydroelectric Power Plants

Hydroelectric Power Plants
  1. Ten Largest Hydroelectric Power Plants of the World: Part-1
  2. Top Ten Largest Hydroelectric Power Plants of the World: Part-2
  3. Top Ten Largest Hydroelectric Power Plants of the World: Part-3
  4. Top Ten Largest Hydroelectric Power Plants of the World: Part-4
  5. Past, Present and Future of Hydroelectric Power Plants – Part 1: History
  6. Past, Present and Future of Hydroelectric Power Plants – Part 2: Present
  7. Past, Present and Future of Hydroelectric Power Plants – Part 3: Future