Water Power's Origins

Hydropower is an ancient way of doing work that has been utilized for more than 2000 years. Waterwheels first appeared in the Middle East in the form known as Norse wheels and were gradually developed into the increasingly more efficient undershot and overshot wheels. These vertical wheels were first described around 27 BC by Vitruvius, a Roman architect and engineer, in his book De Architectura. Waterwheels were commonly used to power sawmills and gristmills for hundreds of years, and are still being used in some places.

hydroelectricity's development

In the late 1800's people first began attaching waterwheels to generators to produce electricity. The first use in the United States was in Michigan in 1880 when the Grand Rapids Electric Light and Power Company used it to provide lighting at the Wolverine Chair Factory.

During the depression of the 1930's FDR's New Deal plans built many dams and hydroelectric facilities including Hoover and Grand Coulee Dams and established the Tennessee Valley Authority. Largely because of this, the 1940's saw highest percentage of hydroelectricity in United States history with around 40% of the country's energy coming from hydro sources.

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© 2006 Andy Terbovich and Margaret Dunagin. Design by Andreas Viklund.

Image courtesy of www.waterhistory.org from Scientific American