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The 1910s (1910-1919)

The second decade of the century was marked by extraordinary expansion, industrialization, and communication. It was a time for exceeding expectations making bigger and better lamps and motors, building more power plants, and interconnecting the nation through an expanded transmission system. Many milestones dramatize the practical working success of electricity during this period, including: the

The second decade of the century was marked by extraordinary expansion, industrialization, and communication. It was a time for exceeding expectations — making bigger and better lamps and motors, building more power plants, and interconnecting the nation through an expanded transmission system. Many milestones dramatize the practical working success of electricity during this period, including: the creation of the gas engine; the development of the feed-back, super heterodyne, and regenerative circuits; the opening of the (electrically controlled) Panama Canal; the development of the automatic substation; the discovery of superconductivity; and the first transmitted speech by radio telephone across the Atlantic. Few inventions in history have altered life as much as the telephone. This monumental communications breakthrough offered tremendous opportunities for the electrical worker, who could now string the wires, set up the hardware, and maintain the switching circuits and machinery. And as electrification spread through rural America by the end of the decade, contractors found farm projects to be big business.

World War I (1914-1918) also had an enormous impact on the electrical industry. According to the IEEE History Center, engineers were affected the most. “The needs of war pushed the technology ahead at a pace barely thinkable for peacetime. Radio facilities were placed under direct government control and brilliant young men like Edwin Howard Armstrong (inventor of the feed-back circuit) were pressed into military service. Developing radio technology that soldiers could use required the rapid advancement of radiotelephony.” As noted in the IEEE archives, the war exposed much of the population to the wonders of radio, thus building the foundations for the boom that was to come. “The interaction between military needs and engineering advancement was to be a pattern repeated through the century, with consequences that both the engineers and the public would have to learn to live with.”

During this decade of transition, electricity transformed from a luxury to a necessity.

What a kW/hr of Power Can Do

What could a kW/hr of electricity do in 1910? When converted into various forms of energy, the answers (provided by a municipal electric plant manager) may surprise you.

  • Saw 300 ft of timber.
  • Keep your feet warm for 5 hr.
  • Clean 75 pairs of boots.
  • Clip five horses.
  • Warm your curling tongs every day of the year for 3 min, and twice on Sundays.
  • Warm your shaving water every morning for a month.
  • Run a plate-polishing machine for 21 hr.
  • Run an electric clock for 10 yr.
  • Iron 30 silk hats.
  • Knead eight sacks of flour into dough.
  • Fill and cork 250 dozen pint bottles.
  • Run an electric piano for 10 hr.
  • Supply all the air required by an ordinary church organ for one service.
  • Keep four domestic irons in use for an hour.
  • Warm all the beds in the house with a warming pan for two weeks.
  • Boil nine kettles, each holding 2 pints of water.
  • Cook 15 chops in 15 min.

Jovianism Catches On

As originally published in a 1912 edition of International News Service, Elbert Hubbard reports on the formation of a unique electrical society founded in Austin, Texas, in 1899. Known as “The Jovians” this organization was made up of men engaged in the business of harnessing electricity. Although they were competitors by trade, the 44 charter members joined together with a common goal: to hold a convention of manufacturers and jobbers in Austin. As the ideals of the Jovians spread throughout the United States, the organization encouraged chapters to form wherever there was a central power plant. In 1913, the number of Jovians totaled 8000.

Who was eligible to join? “Any man engaged in the business of generating electricity, selling the current, contracting, construction, or dealing in electric supplies.” Operating under the motto, “All together, all the time, for everything electrical,” the order of the Jovians was purely social.

The following prose characterizes some of the core beliefs of the Jovians. “The idea electricity binding the world together in a body of brotherhood is something we did not look for a few years ago. Electricity occupies the twilight zone between the world of spirit and the world of matter. Electricians are all proud of their business. They should be. God is the Great Electrician. Men are surely getting acquainted and getting together as never before in history. All together, all the time, not only for everything electrical, but everything human — why not? I am a Jovian.”

Electric Service in the Home

In an address presented to the St. Louis League of Electrical Interest in 1913, F. B. Adam reported that electricity had changed from an unnecessary luxury to a standard part of the household, thanks to the low rate of electricity. “I believe that every person who has used electricity and investigated the improvements will have to acknowledge that it is an absolute necessity to the well-equipped home whether it be for the poor man or the rich man, who can afford to own or rent a home,” Adam explained. Adam went on to encourage those interested in applications of electric service for the home to visit their local electric shops “to appreciate the development of electric current consuming apparatus, appliances and devices for power heating, and cooking.”

Good Code Wire and Bad

Based on samples taken from installations and jobbers' shelves, manufacturers in 1914 seem to be producing a large quantity of code wire that does not measure up to standards. According to an early investigative article, editors blame both the manufacturer and the purchaser. “Undoubtedly, this condition is due to destructive competition, which has been forced upon many industries by the federal government, which makes it a crime for business men to cooperate for the purpose, among others, of maintaining fair prices.”

Obviously, the majority of electrical jobbers and contractors prefer to handle only standard goods. However, not all competitors are so conscientious. If properly followed, the National Electrical Code specifications ensure a reliable product. Although Underwriters Laboratories has established a system of inspection (which includes chemical, physical, and electrical test of factory stock and coils picked up in the field), the average quality of insulated wires is higher than ever. According to the article, this predicament creates a dilemma. The problem is, “the laboratories cannot at the present time pass upon every foot of code wire made in the United States. To do so would require a resident inspector in every factory. This would mean heavy expense which the manufacturers would have to bear through the increased cost of labels.” And manufacturers just can't assume this additional burden. What's the end result of this situation? “This demoralizes the market, calls forth unjust criticism of the Underwriters Laboratories, encourages bad business morals and stimulates the insatiable demands of unprincipled purchasers for cut-throat prices.”

The Cons of Concentric Wiring

On Jan. 12, 1915, a group of electrical representatives met in New York City to discuss concentric wiring. According to a National Electrical Contractor article, the interest in a system of grounded concentric wiring stemmed from two industry demands: the desire for a low-cost wiring system that could be installed easily; and the need to protect persons from injury. Based on the input from those attending the electrical committee meeting, concentric wiring should not be permitted. Why? “There is a great question as to whether or not it will cheapen construction, and it was pointed out that the possible increase in fire and life hazard certainly should make it objectionable.”

Lady Lineman

Picked up by the National Electrical Contractor from Western Electric News in 1915, the article entitled, “She Fears not the Height,” documents the entrance of women into line construction. “The accompanying photograph may perhaps strengthen the belief of some of our eastern friends that this country is still the ‘Wild and Woolly West.’ This ‘linelady’ is one of our very good country customers who has the proud distinction of being her own manager, office force, collector, and construction crew. Some of her accomplishments rival the achievements of some of the best linemen in the business.”

Devices for Difficult Fishing

In a 1915 article, the mouse and looped snake devices shown in the illustrations above demonstrate a great timesaver for electrical contractors wiring finished frame buildings. The editors walk the reader through this practical installation procedure: In these structures standard construction usually involves the use of 2-in. × 4-in. studs in the outside walls [see figure above]. A ribbon usually supports the floor joists for the second floor. This provides an unobstructed wireway from the attic to the cellar between the studs. With the device described, advantage may be taken of this clear space and conductors can be fished from a pocket at a partition on the second floor or from first-story electrolier outlet directly to the basement.

The mouse and looped snake device comprises a steel snake and a mouse consisting of a length of cord and a lead ball about 1 ¼ in. in diameter or other similar spherical weight [see figure near right]. A carpenter's chalk line makes an ideal cord. A steel snake of rectangular section is best, but one of round wire can be used. A loop, large enough so that the cord will pass through it readily, is bent in the end of the snake. The loop is bound with fine wire so that it cannot be unbent. It is well to solder the finding. One end of the cord is then passed through the loop. The cord must be 20 ft. or 30 ft long. The cord is fastened to the spherical weight by passing it through a hole drilled in the weight and then tying a knot in it.

Early Security Device

Although signal wiring is one of the easier facets of an electrical contractor's work, it can frequently be made a profitable one if he uses a certain amount of ingenuity, a 1915 article on signal circuits wiring and devices reports. The illustration (far right) shows the technical specifics of installing an innovative circuit device that sounds when you open a door.

Feeding the War Machine

In the May 1917 issue of the National Electrical Contractor, the cover story, “Pledges Loyalty,“ provides encouragement for readers during the later years of World War I. Although the war had already devastated a good portion of Europe by this time, “there is consolation in the thought that we have taken this drastic action only after mature thought by the master minds of our country.” According to the article, the electrical industry has contributed a great deal to the war effort. For example, Thomas Edison, one of the forefathers of electrical work, has joined the Naval Consulting Board. In addition, “several of the foremost electrical engineers of the country have also placed their services at the disposal of the government and have been accepted.”

Calculating Labor Costs

In a paper presented at the convention of the National Association at Cleveland in 1918, F.W. Lord instructs readers on how to determine unit costs of productive labor. First, you divide the work into its logical mechanical subdivisions. Each day, you split up the amount of labor and list it under the proper headings, according to the time expended. According to the author, the average of these daily subdivisions will be extremely accurate because, “by the law of averages, the over-approximations will be offset and balanced by the ones that are underestimated.” However, because a typical contractor-dealer may handle as many as 50,000 varieties of electric fittings (and it requires labor to install each one of these), “it is obviously impossible to have standard units that will apply in all cases,” Lord writes. “What we must arrive at, therefore, is an intelligent compromise, and have a list which is reasonably serviceable.”

Elimination of Inefficient Electric Lamps

On Sept. 15, 1918, the U.S. Fuel Administration introduced a plan to save electricity and fuel that called for the gradual elimination of the inefficient types of incandescent lamps and the substitution of more efficient tungsten lamps. The fully developed plan was printed in the proceedings of the Committee of Incandescent Lamp Manufacturers.

Solving War-Time Problems

In 1918, F. S. Ackley, of General Electric Co., offers a comprehensive piece on how electrical contractor-dealers can meet changing market conditions during the war. In this compelling article, Ackley writes, “While the armies of the United States are battling abroad to save civilization from the greatest menace that has threatened it for centuries, it is the duty and privilege of those at home to bear their share in the great struggle. This is not a quarrel of governments nor a battle for an abstract principle — it is a war of self-preservation, a contest for the safety and integrity of the home and fortune of each one of us. It is YOUR war — it is MY war.”

He goes on to rally readers to serve the country's best interests “not merely to avoid hindering the national program but actively to support it.” In view of the current threatened shortage of certain materials, the author encourages manufacturers to reduce the production and sale of products requiring these materials. “Times have changed, and now the most important and profitable business of each and every one of us is the winning of the war. All other things are subordinate, for upon the successful accomplishment of this hangs all future prosperity.”

“Time saved can be used for war work. Fuel saved means more for war industries. Money saved means increased purchases of Liberty Bonds and Thrift Stamps. Labor saved means releasing someone for the national service either abroad or in the munitions plants at home.”

Electrical Conveniences on the Farm

According to C. M. Caldwell's address delivered at the September meeting of the Illinois State Association in 1918, providing electric light and power for country homes across the nation will prove to be big business for the electrical contractor-dealer in the very near future. To put this trend into perspective, the author offers a statistical comparison: In 1917, $30 million worth of electrical equipment was installed in rural homes. However, he estimates this total will double in just one year, reaching more than $60 million by 1918. The author concludes with a market forecast: “We are confidently sure that within the next 10 or 12 years, at the most it, will be extremely difficult to find any farm home, owned by the farmer who is living in the home, which will not be equipped with an electric light and power plant of some kind.”

Electrical Farm Equipment

In 1919, the topic of electrical farm equipment begins to garner national press. In the article, “Electricity on the Farm,” the editors characterize the profit margins for electrical contractor-dealers as “almost limitless.” Because the traditional business channels for this trade have been closed by the war, new business opportunities bring promise of a better day. As the article describes, several manufacturers of farm equipment have lobbied Washington for their position. In return, “the War Industries Board has refused to listen until the industry presents a complete case backed by statistical evidence and facts to prove the essentiality at this time of electrical equipment on the farm.”

Will the use of electrical energy on the farm contribute to winning the war? According to the article, until proponents of these products prove how the source of energy, fuel consumption, available labor for the manufacture and installation of the equipment, and extensions to present central stations transmission systems contribute to the overall war effort, the War Industries Board will take the stand that “electrical equipment on the farm is not essential to the winning of the war.”

Electrification Comes to the Farm

What does the farmer think of electricity? In his 1919 article, J. E. Bullard outlines how electric power should replace manpower in agricultural work. Citing irrigation as the most profitable way to harness electricity on the farm, the author goes on to explain the specifics of how such an arrangement works. Where the farmer uses a sprinkling system, a 750W power and light set operates a pump that delivers 6 gal of water per minute ranging from 30 lb to 50 lb of pressure. In fact, the author claims this will irrigate a 75-ft×50-ft plot and increase the productivity to such an extent that the produce raised on this small plot in one season will pay the entire costs of the installation — and the yield in an ordinary season will almost double.

The following list demonstrates where farmers can put power to work: water pumps, grain threshers, hay cutters, feed grinders, grain graders, corn shellers, ensilage cutters, root cutters, fanning mills, bone grinders, hay hoists, grain elevators, hay balers, huskers and shredders, clover hullers, corn crackers, rice threshers, oat crushers, pea and bean hullers, alfalfa mills, cider mills, concrete mixers, cider presses, horse groomers, spraying machines, horse clippers, clover cutters, sheep shearers, and wood splitters.

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