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Engineering Invention:Frank J. Sprague and the U.S. Electrical Industry

Cover Image Copyright Year: 2010
Author(s): Dalzell, F.; Carlson, W.; Sprague, J.
Publisher: MIT Press
Content Type : Books & eBooks
Topics: Engineering Profession
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Abstract

Over the course of a little less than twenty years, inventor Frank J. Sprague (1857-1934) achieved an astonishing series of technological breakthroughs--from pioneering work in self-governing motors to developing the first full-scale operational electric railway system--all while commercializing his inventions and promoting them (and himself as their inventor) to financial backers and the public. In Engineering Invention, Frederick Dalzell tells Sprague's story, setting it against the backdrop of one of the most dynamic periods in the history of technology. In a burst of innovation during these years, Sprague and his contemporaries--Thomas Edison, Nicolas Tesla, Elmer Sperry, George Westinghouse, and others--transformed the technologies of electricity and reshaped modern life. After working briefly for Edison, Sprague started the Sprague Electric Railway and Motor Company; designed and built an electric railroad system for Richmond, Virginia; sold his company to Edison and went into the field of electric elevators; almost accidentally discovered a multiple-control system that could equip electric train systems for mass transit; started a third company to commercialize this; then sold this company to Edison and retired (temporarily). Throughout his career, Dalzell tells us, Sprague framed technology as invention, cast himself as hero, and staged his technologies as dramas. He toiled against the odds, scraped together resources to found companies, bet those companies on technical feats--and pulled it off, multiple times. The idea of the "heroic inventor" is not, of course, the only way to frame the history of technology. Nevertheless, as Dalzell shows, Sprague, Edison, and others crafted the role consciously and actively, using it to generate vital impetus behind the process of innovation.

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      Front Matter

      Dalzell, F. ; Carlson, W. ; Sprague, J.
      Engineering Invention:Frank J. Sprague and the U.S. Electrical Industry

      Page(s): i - 20
      Copyright Year: 2010

      MIT Press eBook Chapters

      This chapter contains sections titled: Half Title, Title, Copyright, Contents, Foreword, Acknowledgments, Introduction View full abstract»

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      Motive Powers And Mechanisms

      Dalzell, F. ; Carlson, W. ; Sprague, J.
      Engineering Invention:Frank J. Sprague and the U.S. Electrical Industry

      Page(s): 21 - 58
      Copyright Year: 2010

      MIT Press eBook Chapters

      This chapter contains sections titled: Economic Context: Family Background, North Adams, The Hoosac Tunnel, To Annapolis, Toward Electricity, Gathering Currents: Sprague in Context, Tours of Duty, At Sea, Shore Stations, Crystal Palace: “The Engines of the Future”, Working for Edison, Motors, The Break and the Brink View full abstract»

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      Getting Traction, 1884 to 1888: Sprague Electric Railway and Motor Company and the Richmond Union Passenger Railway

      Dalzell, F. ; Carlson, W. ; Sprague, J.
      Engineering Invention:Frank J. Sprague and the U.S. Electrical Industry

      Page(s): 59 - 90
      Copyright Year: 2010

      MIT Press eBook Chapters

      This chapter contains sections titled: Economic Context: The Salient Forming, Sprague Launches, Breaking In: Bootstrap Strategies in a Networking Economy, Building the Motor Business, An Interlude, The Richmond Opportunity, “The Instruments”, Pressure Builds View full abstract»

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      Assessing Richmond: Beyond Invention

      Dalzell, F. ; Carlson, W. ; Sprague, J.
      Engineering Invention:Frank J. Sprague and the U.S. Electrical Industry

      Page(s): 91 - 112
      Copyright Year: 2010

      MIT Press eBook Chapters

      This chapter contains sections titled: Capitalizing, The Dynamics of Adoption, Industry Development and Corporate Absorption, The Ongoing Evolution of the Invention, Cultural Meanings, Claiming the Technology View full abstract»

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      Restless and Rising: Sprague and Sprague Electric Elevator Company, 1890 to 1898

      Dalzell, F. ; Carlson, W. ; Sprague, J.
      Engineering Invention:Frank J. Sprague and the U.S. Electrical Industry

      Page(s): 113 - 143
      Copyright Year: 2010

      MIT Press eBook Chapters

      This chapter contains sections titled: Sprague within Edison General Electric, Engineering Richmond as Narrative, A Free Agent, The Elevator Opportunity, Refining the Technology, Engineering Electric Elevator Technologies: Strategic Context, Staging the Technology: The Postal Telegraph Building, Steering through the Storm, Prying Open the Market, Hard Pressed, The Turning Point, An Engineering Assessment, Epilogue–And Prologue View full abstract»

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      Fighting for Control: Multiple Unit, the South Side Elevated Railroad, and the Formation of Sprague Electric Company

      Dalzell, F. ; Carlson, W. ; Sprague, J.
      Engineering Invention:Frank J. Sprague and the U.S. Electrical Industry

      Page(s): 145 - 172
      Copyright Year: 2010

      MIT Press eBook Chapters

      This chapter contains sections titled: Sustaining the Elevator Business, The Multiple-Unit Concept, In Search of a Stage, The Opportunity Breaks, Straddling Oceans and Projects, On to Mu, Setting Up the Sprague Electric Company, Strategizing Mu, Installation in Chicago, Conclusion: The Shifting Context of Innovation View full abstract»

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      Elusive Control: The Contest with General Electric

      Dalzell, F. ; Carlson, W. ; Sprague, J.
      Engineering Invention:Frank J. Sprague and the U.S. Electrical Industry

      Page(s): 173 - 200
      Copyright Year: 2010

      MIT Press eBook Chapters

      This chapter contains sections titled: Context: The Business Environment, Impatient Capital, The Manhattan Elevated Railway, The Brooklyn Elevated Railway, Competition Heats Up, Strategy: The Bid to Scale Up Sprague Electric Company, Market Developments, The Patent Fight and Resolution, Control, In Perspective View full abstract»

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      Mainline Electrification: Eminence and the Challenges of “Retirement”

      Dalzell, F. ; Carlson, W. ; Sprague, J.
      Engineering Invention:Frank J. Sprague and the U.S. Electrical Industry

      Page(s): 201 - 231
      Copyright Year: 2010

      MIT Press eBook Chapters

      This chapter contains sections titled: Context: Grand Central Station: Mainline Electrification, The Dynamics of Technology Development within the Electric Traction Commission, Electrifying the New York Central Railroad, The Terms of Technology, the Tone of Invention, Elder Statesman, Back to Venturing, Legacies View full abstract»

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      Afterword: The Barn

      Dalzell, F. ; Carlson, W. ; Sprague, J.
      Engineering Invention:Frank J. Sprague and the U.S. Electrical Industry

      Page(s): 233 - 236
      Copyright Year: 2010

      MIT Press eBook Chapters

      Over the course of a little less than twenty years, inventor Frank J. Sprague (1857-1934) achieved an astonishing series of technological breakthroughs--from pioneering work in self-governing motors to developing the first full-scale operational electric railway system--all while commercializing his inventions and promoting them (and himself as their inventor) to financial backers and the public. In Engineering Invention, Frederick Dalzell tells Sprague's story, setting it against the backdrop of one of the most dynamic periods in the history of technology. In a burst of innovation during these years, Sprague and his contemporaries--Thomas Edison, Nicolas Tesla, Elmer Sperry, George Westinghouse, and others--transformed the technologies of electricity and reshaped modern life. After working briefly for Edison, Sprague started the Sprague Electric Railway and Motor Company; designed and built an electric railroad system for Richmond, Virginia; sold his company to Edison and went into the field of electric elevators; almost accidentally discovered a multiple-control system that could equip electric train systems for mass transit; started a third company to commercialize this; then sold this company to Edison and retired (temporarily). Throughout his career, Dalzell tells us, Sprague framed technology as invention, cast himself as hero, and staged his technologies as dramas. He toiled against the odds, scraped together resources to found companies, bet those companies on technical feats--and pulled it off, multiple times. The idea of the "heroic inventor" is not, of course, the only way to frame the history of technology. Nevertheless, as Dalzell shows, Sprague, Edison, and others crafted the role consciously and actively, using it to generate vital impetus behind the process of innovation. View full abstract»

    • Full text access may be available. Click article title to sign in or learn about subscription options.

      Notes

      Dalzell, F. ; Carlson, W. ; Sprague, J.
      Engineering Invention:Frank J. Sprague and the U.S. Electrical Industry

      Page(s): 237 - 262
      Copyright Year: 2010

      MIT Press eBook Chapters

      This chapter contains sections titled: Introduction, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7 View full abstract»

    • Full text access may be available. Click article title to sign in or learn about subscription options.

      Index

      Dalzell, F. ; Carlson, W. ; Sprague, J.
      Engineering Invention:Frank J. Sprague and the U.S. Electrical Industry

      Page(s): 263 - 288
      Copyright Year: 2010

      MIT Press eBook Chapters

      Over the course of a little less than twenty years, inventor Frank J. Sprague (1857-1934) achieved an astonishing series of technological breakthroughs--from pioneering work in self-governing motors to developing the first full-scale operational electric railway system--all while commercializing his inventions and promoting them (and himself as their inventor) to financial backers and the public. In Engineering Invention, Frederick Dalzell tells Sprague's story, setting it against the backdrop of one of the most dynamic periods in the history of technology. In a burst of innovation during these years, Sprague and his contemporaries--Thomas Edison, Nicolas Tesla, Elmer Sperry, George Westinghouse, and others--transformed the technologies of electricity and reshaped modern life. After working briefly for Edison, Sprague started the Sprague Electric Railway and Motor Company; designed and built an electric railroad system for Richmond, Virginia; sold his company to Edison and went into the field of electric elevators; almost accidentally discovered a multiple-control system that could equip electric train systems for mass transit; started a third company to commercialize this; then sold this company to Edison and retired (temporarily). Throughout his career, Dalzell tells us, Sprague framed technology as invention, cast himself as hero, and staged his technologies as dramas. He toiled against the odds, scraped together resources to found companies, bet those companies on technical feats--and pulled it off, multiple times. The idea of the "heroic inventor" is not, of course, the only way to frame the history of technology. Nevertheless, as Dalzell shows, Sprague, Edison, and others crafted the role consciously and actively, using it to generate vital impetus behind the process of innovation. View full abstract»