Every once in a while, I stumble across something so good that I have to share it with you all. 

Here’s the back-story.  I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of first-movers.  It takes a peculiar mix of genius, foresight and a seemingly illogical disregard of risk to do something truly original.  Being the geek that I am, a few weeks back I decided to find out some more about the first-movers in the field of wind-generated electricity. 

A few google-filled hours later, I came across an article written in the publication “Scientific American” on December 20, 1890.  The article described the story of Mr. Charles F. Brush of Cleveland, Ohio and his amazing windmill dynamo. 

Having made his fortune designing a “dynamo” (essentially an electric generator) and an arc light system that had been placed in-service in cities all across the country (including powering Broadway in New York City), Mr. Brush decided to retire from the business world at the age of 40.  

Like most retirees, he devoted a considerable amount of his time and effort into maintaining his property.  However, whereas many retirees focus on having the greenest lawn or the most impressive gardens, Mr. Brush decided to build an 85-foot tall wind turbine in his backyard.

I’m sure his neighbors were thrilled.

The structure itself was a technical marvel, and represented the first fully-automated electricity generating wind turbine in the world.  Standing just over 85 feet tall, the turbine featured a 56 foot wide wheel that was made up of 144 blades with a surface area of 1,800 square feet.  Additionally, the entire structure was on a revolving platform and utilized a 60 foot long tail which turned the wheel directly into the wind.

Inside the tower was a generator of Mr. Brush’s own design.  The generator was connected to the wheel via a series of pulleys that allowed the generator to have 50 revolutions for every one revolution of the wheel.   At full load, the generator was capable of 500 revolutions per mintue and it could generate 12,000 watts of electricity.

The entire system is amazing, but the part that really blows me away was that Mr. Brush even thought to tackle one of the biggest problems that still plagues the wind industry, battery storage.  In the basement of Mr. Brush’s mansion was a series of 408 battery cells, each with a capacity of 100 ampere hours.  This allowed Mr. Brush to have a contiuous supply of electricity, even when the wind was not blowing.

Unfortunately, Mr. Brush’s wind turbine design never moved out of his backyard and into mainstream use.  Nonetheless, over the course of its 20-year life, the entire structure reliably powered the 350 incandescent lights in Mr. Brush’s home.  In the end, Mr. Brush’s amazing wind dynamo stands as a truly amazing display of ingenuity and the motivational power of too much free-time.  It is important to take some time every once in a while to remind ourselves that, even in cutting-edge fields like renewable energy, we are still standing on the shoulders of giants.

If you are interested in learning more about Mr. Brush and his amazing wind dynamo, feel free to send me an email at lhagedorn@polsinelli.com or leave a comment below.

*I’d like to give a special thanks to Scientific American, a publication that continues to put out quality content to this day.