The First Wind Turbine in America

Charles F. Brush's Wind Turbine
Charles F. Brush’s Wind Turbine
Note the gardener pushing a lawnmower at bottom right for scale.

Wind Powered Cleveland’s First Electric Home

In 1888, American inventor Charles F. Brush’s mansion was the first home to have electricity in Cleveland, Ohio. How did he get it? Brush built the world’s first automatically operated wind turbine in his backyard.

The turbine was built in the winter of 1887–1888. It stood 60 feet high, weighed 80,000 pounds, and supported a rotor of 56 feet in diameter. It stored electricity in a bank of a dozen batteries.

The turbine supplied 12kW of power—small by today’s standards—but plenty to power the home’s 350 incandescent lights, 2 arc lights, and a number of motors. Remember, Brush’s home was a mansion.

Was his project successful?

Absolutely! Brush’s turbine never failed to keep his home continuously powered during its 20 years of service. He kept it running for ten tears after Cleveland’s electric grid became available and eventually retired it.

Who Built The First Wind Turbine to Generate Electricity?

Who was first: the Scottish academic or the American inventor?

There is some controversy and debate here.

Why? There are conflicting historical reports that consider scale, purpose, and device types differently.

For example, one Wikipedia entry says:

The first electricity generating wind turbine, was a battery charging machine installed in July 1887 by Scottish academic, James Blyth to light his holiday home in Marykirk, Scotland. Some months later American inventor Charles F. Brush built the first automatically operated wind turbine for electricity production in Cleveland, Ohio.

More confusing is that other Wikipedia entries credit Brush as the first builder. That’s in conflict with the one above—not uncommon on Wikipedia.

On the other hand, The Danish Wind Industry Association believes Brush was first and others agree.

Timewise, Brush and Blyth are virtually tied. However, they took different design approaches: Brush went horizontal while Blyth went vertcal.

Here’s a photograph of James Blyth’s design:

James Blyth's 1891 windmill
James Blyth’s Windmill
Note the woman standing in front of the shed bottom right for scale.

So, we propose a solution to settle the debate:

American inventor Charles Brush gets credit for the world’s first horizontal access wind turbine (HAWT) to generate electricity.

Scottish academic James Blyth gets credit for the world’s first vertical axis wind turbine (VAWT) to generate electricity.

Fair enough?

Filed under energywindgreen