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University at Buffalo Libraries

Pan-American Exposition of 1901

Electricity and Technology


Thumbnail image - The Birth of Power

"The Birth of Power" Artist: Willy Pogany. Source: Edward Dean Adams. Niagara Power: History of the Niagara Falls Power Company 1886-1918. Niagara Falls, N.Y.: Niagara Falls Power Company, 1927.

This portion of the online exhibit focuses on the generation of hydroelectric power at the turn of the century and the resulting development of electrochemical industry along the Niagara River. One of the widest misconceptions in "exposition circles" is the belief that the development of hydroelectric power at Niagara Falls was catalyzed by the incredible display of incandescent illumination at the Pan-American Exposition. While the "City of Light" undeniably turned the general public and commercial entrepreneurs on to the idea that electricity could be effectively utilized in the domestic arena, it was industry that spurred development of power plants at the Falls. As Jack Foran points out in his essay introducing Niagara Falls and electricity, the harnessing of the Falls required the identification of a market for such vast amounts of electrical power. "[That] market was to be Buffalo industry," and thus power plants were built and expanded. Indeed, because alternating current generators, transformers and transmission lines were already in place 25 miles away at the Falls, the planners of the 1901 Exposition in Buffalo could build electric trolleys and elevators and illuminate the fairgrounds on a much wider scale than any of their predecessors.

One can assume that Buffalo would have become that market for Falls-generated power regardless of whether or not she had hosted the 1901 Pan-American Exposition. The industrial development in the Buffalo-Niagara region during the early 20th century provides plenty of evidence to support such a claim. However, the Exposition provided such a memorable and visually inspiring exhibit that it may very well have enlightened visitors and participants to the potential for the use of electricity for more than simply powering furnaces and catalyzing the separation of chemical compounds. Electricity could provide light and after all, everyone needed light. But the panorama of glowing architecture that was the Exposition at night, proved that light could be utilized in a most beautiful way.


  • Electricity and its Development

    This section looks at the development of power generation--direct and alternating current--at Niagara Falls. It features information on Nicola Tesla as well as the two major hydroelectric power generators of the period, the Niagara Falls Power Company and the Niagara Falls Hydroelectric Power and Manufacturing Company.

  • The Electrochemical Industry and Niagara Falls

    Electrochemical industry grew in and around Niagara Falls because of the relatively cheap supply of abundant power available. This section describes the major companies utilizing this power.

  • New Technologies at the Turn of the Century

    The Pan-American Exposition served in part as the 1901 equivalent of the modern trade show, where companies could exhibit and advertise new inventions and technologies. This section highlights some of 1901's "modern marvels."