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Pan-American Exposition of 1901

The Power Plant in the Court of the Machinery Building

At Buffalo, it was expected to have an exposition without the steam engine, to make the lighting effects and the power supply in themselves an exposition of the triumphant solution of the generation of electricity at Niagara and its transmission to Buffalo. No provision was therefore made in the original design for a steam power plant, or for the exhibition of steam and gas engines in operation. As the project grew, however, it became evident that the five thousand horse power contracted for from the Cataract Power Co. would not be sufficient for the needs of the exposition and a "service plant" with a capacity of some 3,600 horse power constituted of such boilers and machinery as could be cheaply had for temporary use was erected. . . . The power generated in this plant is used to operate Root positive rotary pumps, furnishing water for the cascade and fountains, and generators for special electrical service. … 1

The Pan-American Exposition grounds were actually serviced by three power plants. The first, located in the Electricity Building distributed the electrical power generated at Niagara Falls and transmitted to Buffalo. [See the Pan-American Exhibit of General Electric Company.] The second, referred to in the quote above, was a stand-alone service building, located in the northwest corner of the Exposition grounds. Visitors to the Exposition could enter this building and observe portions of the operation, which was comprised of natural gas-powered boilers, and a series of steam and gas engines used to provide the bulk of the electric power used for non-illumination purposes. However, even the engines in this building could not sufficiently supply the complete power needs of the Pan-American. Thus, a third "power court," with additional steam and gas engines was constructed as yet another "working exhibit" in the Machinery and Transportation building.

Engines Located in the Power Court of the Machinery Building

Engines located in the Power Court of the Machinery Building. Source: Power, vol. 21, no. 8 (Aug. 1901) p.2.

The Power Court was located in the center of the building, in a depressed area surrounded by an elevated walkway. Exposition visitors could then peer down into the court to observe the engines in operation.

View of the Power Court

Images of the Power Court: The walkway is located at the level of the "Murray Iron Works" sign in the picture above. At right, visitors observe a working engine. Source: Power, vol. 21, no. 8 (Aug. 1901) p. 1.

Observing a Working Engine

Visitors Observe a Working Engine. Source: Power, vol. 21, no. 8 (Aug. 1901) p. 1.

Contrary to the first intention and to the general expectation there is considerable of a power plant at the Pan-American Exposition. It is located in a depressed court surrounded by the Machinery and Transportation Building and some dissatisfaction was expressed at first on account of its isolation and inaccessibility. It is said that the exhibitors made a purse and bought a handsome present for a lady visitor who had the temerity to descend to the engine room. All cause for such dissatisfaction is now, however, removed. The roof has been raised to a height of eight or ten feet so that the passage around the court on the main floor level is virtually a gallery overlooking the engines and machinery, in addition to which cross galleries have been placed centrally over the court upon the same level. At each end broad flights of stairs will lead down to the engine room, with numerous other staircases from different points upon the galleries. In this way the power plant will become a prominent feature of the machinery exhibit, hardly to be overlooked by the regular visitor and easily accessible for those who wish to examine it in detail.2

Thumbnail images - Watertown Engine

The Watertown Engine. Source: Power, vol. 21, no. 8 (Aug. 1901) p. 3.

Thumbnail image - Ball Engine

The Ball Engine. Source: Power, vol. 21, no. 8 (Aug. 1901) p. 3.

Thumbnail image - The Machinery and Transportation Building

The Machinery and Transportation Building. Photo Credit: C. D. Arnold. Source: C.D. Arnold. The Pan-American Exposition Illustrated. Buffalo, N.Y.: C.D. Arnold, 1901. p. 9. Courtesy of Kerry S. Grant

Thumbnail image of Ames Engine

The Ames Engine. Source: Power, vol. 21, no. 8 (Aug. 1901) p. 3.

Thumbnail image of Fitchburg Engine

The Fitchburg Engine. Source: Power, vol. 21, no. 8 (Aug. 1901) p. 3.

See "The Power Plants of the Pan-American Exposition," The Engineering Record, vol. 43, no. 21 (May 25, 1901) pp. 500-501, for more information on each of the three power plants located on the Exposition grounds. For more detailed information on the engines used, including schematics and design specifications, see "The Engines of the Pan-American Exposition," Power, vol. 21, no. 8 (Aug. 1901) pp. 1-8.


  1. "The Engines of the Pan-American Exposition," Power, vol. 21, no. 8 (Aug. 1901) p. 1. The image of the Buffalo, surrounded by flags is from the same issue. No artist credit is given.
  2. Power, v.21, no.7 (July 1901) pp. 18-19.