In 1835 the first public demonstration of the electric motor as a means of providing motive power for transportation was made by Thomas Davenport, of Brandon, Vermont. In 1847 Moses Farmer of Salem built a two-passenger electric train and in 1851 Charles Grafton Page invented a 16-mph electric train. These two inventors’s from Salem would go on to do so much.
In 1847, Farmer constructed “an electromagnetic locomotive, and with forty-eight-pint cup cells of Grove nitric acid battery drew a little car carrying two passengers on a track a foot and a half wide”. He would travel throughout the country exhibiting this train during his lectures allowing children to ride it. Elihu Thomson, GE founder, would have a small train on his estate in Swampscott, MA. I wonder if he bought Farmer’s train for his kids to ride.
In 1851, Charles Grafton Page demonstrated an electric motor car capable of 16 MPH. It ran on the B & O Railroad tracks leaving Washington for Baltimore. It suffered many setbacks on the journey and proved not to be a commercial success.
Charles Grafton Page was born to Captain Jeremiah “Jere” Lee Page and Lucy Lang Page on January 25, 1812, in Salem, having eight siblings, four of each gender, he was the only one of five sons to pursue a career into mature adulthood. One of his brothers died in infancy. Brother George died from typhoid at age sixteen, brother Jerry perished on a sea expedition to the Caribbean at age twenty-five, and Henry, afflicted by poliomyelitis, was not able to support himself. In writing to Charles during his final voyage, Jerry expressed the family’s hope for his success: “You are the only classical Page in our book.” Page married Priscilla Sewall Webster in 1844.
Page was an accomplished singer and ventriloquist. One way he used his ventriloquist abilities was to prove that the famous Fox Sisters were frauds. Electricity was being bundled together with other pseudosciences like spiritualism. By confronting hoaxes he believed that electricity could be seen removed from the category and become more respected.
During the Civil War in 1863, Union soldiers broke into his laboratory and destroyed his equipment, inventions and laboratory notebooks. Also a fire in the Smithsonian Institution destroyed many of his other inventions in 1865. One was a powerful electrical magnet that could lift a thousand pounds. He worked in the patent office in D.C. for several years. Now he is mostly forgotten, but he had once been important in the development of the telegraph. I wonder if he was the model for how the government would sequester Tesla’s life work from us today.
The Electrics… In 1890 thanks to William Morrison, a chemist who lived in Des Moines, Iowa batteries were created to run electric cars efficiently for the time. His six-passenger vehicle capable of a top speed of 14 miles per hour helped spark interest in electric vehicles. It was not until 1895 that Americans began to devote attention to electric vehicles, after A.L. Ryker introduced the first electric tricycles to the America, by that point, Europeans had been making use of electric tricycles, bicycles, and cars for almost 15 years.
Farmer, Page, and even Dixon working with Frances Peabody were making trains, but Louis B. Packard was making electric cars. In Salem, we had one of the early electrical car companies. Packard Electrics made the Four Wheel Packard Electric in 1896 and the Three Wheel Packard Electric in 1898. Both electrics were built by Lucius B. Packard at his shop on the corner of Liberty and Derby Streets at the foot of the Olde Burial Point seawall. Previously to him, it was a sea mechanic shop and launch. The Salem Wax Museum now stands on that location. He was a wheelwright and a cabinet maker who tinkered in everything. The three-wheeler was destroyed in the Great Salem Fire of 1914, the year of his death. Also David M. Little would build his steam truck around 1900 in his boatyard on a wharf off Derby Street. It could reach a speed of 35 miles per hour.
Now steam was more popular than electric all the way up to 1900, but electrics came in at a close second with gas-powered vehicles the least popular. In 1900 in the United States, 4,192 cars were produced: 1,681 steam cars, 1,575 electric, and only 936 gasoline cars.
The smoke, the noise, and the muscle needed to start a gas-powered car originally took it out of the market for most. Electric runabouts were great for city dwellers. Especially women who did not have the strength to turn the hand crank in the front of the car. Most people could not leave the city with them because of the battery life, plus they could only reach 30 miles an hour so rural travel was hard for them. Plus the roads were pretty rough outside of the cities…
Very few rural Americans had electricity at that time. To overcome this problem an exchangeable battery service was first proposed as early as 1896. Hartford Electric Light Company through the GeVeCo battery service were the first to offer this service to electric trucks. The owner purchased the vehicle from General Vehicle Company (GeVeCo, a subsidiary of the General Electric Company) without a battery and the electricity was purchased from Hartford Electric Light Company through an exchangeable battery plan. The owner paid a monthly service fee and a variable per-mile charge. Both vehicles and batteries were modified to facilitate a fast battery exchange. From 1910 to 1924 their vehicles traveled more than 6 million miles.
Thomas Edison and Elihu Thomson tried their hands at making electrics and steamers in the next town south, Lynn. Professor Herman Lemp, who worked for the General Electric Co. convinced them that there was a market for the electrics. They created many cars, but they never got around to mass marketing any. They ended up as company vehicles, even though many claimed they were the best of their time.
It started in 1897, Elihu Thomson and Elwin W. Rice believed that manufacturing automobiles were advantageous to their corporation. The actual construction of their first car began in March and it was on the streets of Lynn on the Third of July. Their first car could carry eight persons with a 3 horse powered motor at a speed at 14-18 mph with a radius of 20 miles.
Arthur Stanley was a foreman of General Electric in charge of the experimental cars. He built his own steam car in 1906. By early summer he was driving it along Revere Beach Boulevard at speeds up to 70 mph. The car’s odometer in time would read 160,000 miles. Also in Lynn, Clarence Simmonds who was an employee at the Lynn Gas and Electric Company built a 2 cylinder vertical engine, using naphtha as fuel for the burner and featured a porcupine type boiler. It took only 5 minutes to get the proper amount of steam to reach a top speed of 10 mph. He gained permission from the city to drive his car at certain times to and from work only. He was friends with the Stanley Twins. The Stanley twins from Newton, Ma. Twins Francis E. Stanley (1849–1918) and Freelan O. Stanley (1849–1940) founded the company after selling their photographic dry plate business to Eastman Kodak. They created the Stanley Steamers we are all familiar with. Eastman Kodak would have a plant in Peabody. Ma for several years.
Back in Salem in 1902, Lock Regulator Company built a four-passenger steam runabout that was named the “Puritan”. In Danvers Ralph Hood created the Electromagnetic Steamer manufactured by the Simplex Motor Vehicle Company. The company was incorporated in 1900 but made its first car in 1899. Then Otto Hood created a hybrid car in Peabody. His company the Vaughn Machine Co. changed its name to Corwin Mfg. Co. in 1903. They also had American rights to the coal-powered 35 horse powered Coulthard truck. It had a carrying capacity of 6 tons and was capable of hauling a trailer with a 5-ton load.
By 1912, the gasoline car costs only $650, while an electric roadster sold for $1,750. That same year, Charles Kettering introduced the electric starter, eliminating the need for the hand crank and giving rise to more gasoline-powered vehicle sales. So even women would be won over. Most of what drove the prices down for the gas-powered car was Henry Ford’s assembly line.
Now we have touched on Moses Farmer, Elihu Thomson, and Thomas Edison, but we have not mentioned Nikola Tesla yet. Before War World I Tesla had worked with John Hays Hammond Jr. of Magnolia section of Gloucester, MA.
Roger Conant had lived in Gloucester before moving the Old Planters to Salem, Ma in 1626. It is about a half-hour from Salem on the coast. Many movies like the Russians are Coming and The Perfect Storm were filmed there. Edward Hopper, Winslow Homer, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler would spend summers there painting. Now in front of the old smugglers East Church, The Salem Witch Museum, off the Common stands a statue of him in Roman fashion. Roman’s never learned to make free-standing sculpture without props to hold them up. He is not a witch, but if you look at him at the right angle the placement of his hand when viewed from the old church makes him look like he is engaged in a lewd behavior. Or at the very least, relieving himself. The moral to the story, never rush an artist…
Hammond and Tesla had worked on robotics, remote guidance, and torpedoes. Most of these inventions Tesla invented but allowed Hammond to pursue them as commercial ventures for the Navy. Hammond proposed they create the Tesla-Hammond Wireless Development Co. Beyond creating a better torpedo, Hammond shared his dreams of free electricity. A project J.P. Morgan pulled the plug on when he was creating the Wardenclyffe Tower. In the end like many others, including Edison, Hammond just took advantage of Tesla and stole his inventions.
Also, John Hays Hammond Sr. worked with the Guggenheims to acquire silver mines in Mexico and the Utah Copper Company. J.P. Morgan was trying to invest in this concern as well. Tesla free electricity would put a serious dent in their $100 million dollar profit a year laying out wire on telephone poles. So it seems both Hammonds might of worked against him.
John Hays Hammond Jr.’s wife was a spiritualist who conducted many seances in his castle. Hammond also an occultist experimented with ESP with Eileen Garnett. Hammond placed Garrett in a Faraday cage, a cage designed to keep out electromagnetic waves, to determine whether ESP used electromagnetic frequencies as a carrier wave. Tesla determined ESP waves were not carried by electromagnetic waves, since she communicated with others a half-mile away.
Hammond Castle still has a Tesla coil that produces lightning in a room which can even simulate rain. Tesla never visited the castle, for he met Hammond in his father’s estate. In 1965 many of the documents Tesla and Hammond created would be confiscated as top secret from the castle. Many rumors still exist about Tesla’s personal document was confiscated upon his death in his room at the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan as well.
One says the F.B.I. had called in Dr. John Trump of M.I.T., Donald Trump’s uncle, to go through his papers and read them. Many people thought Tesla might have been working on a death ray that might fall into the wrong hands. Professor Trump examined Tesla’s papers and equipment and told the F.B.I. not to worry: Tesla’s “thoughts and efforts during at least the past 15 years were primarily of a speculative, philosophical, and somewhat promotional character,” but “did not include new, sound, workable principles or methods for realizing such results.”
Now there are rumors that Tesla had provided power to the Naumkeag Steam Cotton Co. in Salem. I have not found the original source that I was informed about this from, but Moses Farmer, and Thomas Edison would join him to light up the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago. He was in Gloucester with John Hays Hammond Jr. from 1912-1913. The plant would be electrified in 1916 after it was razed in the Great Salem Fire of 1914. He had enough connections to this region and its people to make it a possibility.
OK (Old Kinder Hook), I brought up Moses Farmer a few times already, but who was he? Moses Farmer was the son of Col. John Farmer. In 1846 he constructed a small electromagnetic locomotive, also a small railroad track, and exhibited it in various towns and cities with accompanying lectures, and demonstrating how the principle could be used with torpedoes and sub-marine blasting. In the expositions he gave rides to small children on his train. Could Thomson have bought it for his children in Swampscott? I know I asked that already…In 1848 he moves to Salem from Eliot, Maine.
He built a platinum filament incandescent light in 1859. At the age of 39 in 1869 while living in Salem, Massachusetts, he lit the parlor of his home at 11 Pearl St. with incandescent lamps and the Farmer Dynamo, the first house in the world to be lit by electricity. It was powered by his batteries in the basement. My friends Don Goldman and his son Andy Goldman now live in the house. Andy has created these illuminated balls that he has crowds in Boston play with during their first night celebrations.
They are called Have a Ball. Originally part of a Newton’s Cradle he took them apart to be used for Boston’s first-night celebration a few years back. They were suspended in the air and you were encouraged to hit them so they would light up the night. Finally, they were used as tether balls at burning man. Could Andy have been inspired by the house?
Moses Farmer’s early light bulb was bought by Edison. Farmer and his partner William Wallace invented the early dynamo which powered a system of arc lights he exhibited at the Centennial Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia. The threat Farmer was creating a better mousetrap forced Edison to work on an improved incandescent light. Edison used the Wallace-Farmer 8 horsepower, 6.0 kW, dynamo to power his early electric light demonstrations.
Farmer would die at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. Most of his legacy was left for the betterment of society. He and his wife were spiritualists, they felt that their talents were God-given. A belief he shared with Tesla which failed to give him great commercial success. His daughter Sarah Jane Farmer at his estate in Eliot, Maine would found a Baha’i retreat where the Russo-Japanese War came to an end on August 31st, 1905 with the Portsmouth Treaty signed in Kittery, Maine at the Portsmouth Navy Yard on September 5th.
The funny thing about the Navy, their bases are never in the towns they are named after. Portsmouth Navy Yard is not in Portsmouth NH, but Kittery, Maine. Lakehurst Naval and Engineering is in Manchester and not Lakehurst NJ. Plus Lakehurst is a half-hour drive from the ocean…
Now south of Salem are the two towns of Swampscott and Lynn. Thomson-Houston Electric Co. was a manufacturing company that was one of the precursors of the General Electric Co. which was housed in Lynn.
Elihu Thomson who had that kids train lived in Swampscott. He also created the electrical meters on the outside of your house. In 1883 Thomson-Houston Electric Co. was formed when many Lynn shoe company investors led by Charles A. Coffin bought out Elihu Thomson and Edwin Houston’s American Electric Co. from their New Britain, Connecticut investors. Then they moved their company to Western Avenue in Lynn. Lynn would not only be known as “Lynn, Lynn, the city of sin”, but as the shoe capital of the world until the 1980’s. In 1889 Thomson-Houston Electric Co. deployed power plants in the South, including two in Atlanta, Georgia to run their electric lighting.
Coffin organized the finances and marketing; Elwin W. Rice managed the manufacturing; Thomson ran the Model Room which was an industrial research lab. The company was worth $10 million in sales and had 4,000 employees by 1892. Thomson-Houston Electric Co. later merged with the Edison General Electric Co. of Schenectady, New York to form the General Electric Co. in 1892, with plants in Lynn and Schenectady, both of which remain to this day as the two original GE factories. In 1889 Drexel, Morgan & Co. had outmaneuvered Thomas Edison. Drexel, Morgan & Co., a company founded by J.P. Morgan and Anthony J. Drexel, financed Edison’s research and helped merge Edison’s varied companies under one corporation to form Edison General Electric Company which was incorporated on April 24, 1889.
Also in Salem was Frank Poor, a rich man who always remained Poor. Sylvania traces its roots back to 1901, when young entrepreneur Frank Poor became a partner in a small company in Middleton, MA, that renewed burned-out light bulbs. The company would buy an old bulb for a few cents, cut off the glass tip, replace the filament, and reseal the bulb. He would buy out the company and rename it the Bay State Lamp Company and hired his brothers Edward and Walter. In 1909 the Poor brothers started the Hygrade Incandescent Lamp Company to sell new light bulbs. In 1916, Hygrade opened a new plant and headquarters in Salem, Massachusetts, which could turn out 16,000 bulbs a day. Hygrade merges with Sylvania who made radio tubes when Philco Radio decides to sell radios with tubes pre-installed. Edward Poor would be the CEO of Sylvania Hygrade. The company helped create the Cobol computer language.
Later the company will merge with GTE and Osram and move their factories to Danvers, MA. I used to live in the carriage house of Frank Poor’s mansion in Danvers on the corner of routes 62 and 35. It was my second residence inside the state of Massachusetts. Years later, I moved back into the servants quarter where his mistress lived…
Frank Poor heads a committee of the Salem Chamber of Commerce and the Salem Rotary to sell shares in a hotel to accommodate his business clients traveling to Salem. On July 23rd 1925 the Hawthorne Hotel opens. The Museum of Fine Art in Boston releases to them their statue of Nathaniel Hawthorne to be placed in front of the hotel that year. The property was bought from the Salem Marine Society which gained the property from Thomas H. Perkins.
After the Franklin Building, where the Parker Brothers had their toy store, suffered 6 fires it was left abandoned for years. Poor approached the society to purchase it in 1923. The society said they would sell it under the condition they could have their clubhouse on top of the building. A cabin from the Taria Topan, an East India trade vessel, stands on the rooftop of the Hawthorne where the Salem Marine Society still meets. My friend John Reardon, of the Pig’s Eye, is their quartermaster. The Pig’s Eye still has a trapdoor in which they might of shanghaied sailors when the street was the most notorious red-light district in the country in the nineteenth century.
In the clubhouse, there is a portrait of Confederate sympathizer Lt. Maury. Lieutenant Matthew Fontaine Maury was the first superintendent of the United States Naval Observatory in Washington D.C. His research led to significant improvements in navigation and was made an honorary member of the Salem Marine Society with much pomp and circumstance.
Then Maury took a post with Confederates using his experience with the transatlantic cable, that Peabody paid for, and electricity flowing through underwater wires, perfected an electric torpedo which raised havoc with Union shipping. The torpedoes, which are similar to present-day contact mines, were said by the Secretary of the Navy in 1865 “to have cost the Union more vessels than all other causes combined.” So they hung his portrait backward on the wall ever since. A few years ago the family of Maury petitioned the society to turn the portrait back. The most they were willing to do is hang a simple color computer print out next to it…
Salem was important at the beginning of electricity in this country, with electric trains, electric cars, light bulbs, power plants, inventors, and confluences of ideas. Till this day, Salem is still abuzz of activity…
For more stories like this and how Salem shaped American history read Sub Rosa which is available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, and your local Independent Book Seller!