Power Makers: Steam, Electricity, and the Men Who Invented Modern America


"The steam engine, the incandescent lamp, the electric motor - inventions such as these replaced muscle power with machine labor, turned darkness to light, and reshaped every aspect of daily life in the span of a few generations. They were the product of an extraordinary cast of characters: dogged inventors like James Watt and Elihu Thomson; charismatic entrepreneurs like George Westinghouse; daring capitalists like Charles Coffin of General Electric and J. P. Morgan. Others include Samuel Insull, onetime assistant to Thomas Edison, who invented
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"The steam engine, the incandescent lamp, the electric motor - inventions such as these replaced muscle power with machine labor, turned darkness to light, and reshaped every aspect of daily life in the span of a few generations. They were the product of an extraordinary cast of characters: dogged inventors like James Watt and Elihu Thomson; charismatic entrepreneurs like George Westinghouse; daring capitalists like Charles Coffin of General Electric and J. P. Morgan. Others include Samuel Insull, onetime assistant to Thomas Edison, who invented the modern utility business and brought power to millions, and Nikola Tesla, the eccentric Serbian immigrant whose revolutionary AC motor came to him in a vision. Striding among them like a colossus is the figure of Edison, who was creative genius and business visionary at once." The Power Makers is a saga of inspired invention, undaunted persistence, and business competition at its most naked and cutthroat - a tale of America in its most astonishing decades.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
America's rise to industrial greatness was propelled by the "power revolution," the ascendance of the steam engine, the electric motor, and the incandescent bulb. The revolution changed every aspect of American life, from labor to leisure, from material wealth to scientific research. Maury Klein's history of this transformation focuses not on the machines but on those who made them pervasive; titans like James Watt, Elihu Thomson, Nikola Tesla, George Westinghouse, J. P. Morgan, Samuel Insull, and, of course, Thomas Edison.
From the Publisher
“Fascinating…Maury Klein’s The Power Makers allows us to step back and remind ourselves— and we do need reminding—that the past two centuries have been a period of extraordinary invention…Fascinating.”—Wall Street Journal

“Klein’s book reads like a fairy tale…Klein himself rarely fails to reach for the full significance of events…If you haven’t given Boyle’s law much thought since the Reagan revolution, reading Klein will reward you with an excellent course in heat, electricity, and magnetism, at very little cost to your composure.” —New Yorker

“Maury Klein’s stories of heroic inventors creating the industrial revolution make the history of technology come alive.”—Daniel Walker Howe, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848

Publishers Weekly

In an ambitious and expansive narrative, Klein (Rainbow's End: The Crash of 1929) chronicles the advent of steam power and the electrification of America. Klein's descriptions of the science of steam power, beginning with James Watt, and electricity are clear and detailed. He is especially strong when exploring the confounding engineering feats needed to make electricity a commercially feasible commodity. The heart of the book is the collision of entrepreneurs, inventors and financiers, and the epic battle between two icons of American industry, Edison and Westinghouse, to control and profit from the electrification of America. Along the way Klein brings dramatically to life the triumphs and disappointments, both human and technical, as the fledging electric companies sought to service American homes and businesses. In a well-written and satisfying account, Klein makes readers aware of the magnitude of the energy, genius and tenacity of not only Edison—whose development of the world's first power station in 1881 on New York's Pearl Street was a momentous accomplishment—but also of Westinghouse and many others whose discoveries and vision made cheap electricity possible. B&w illus. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Klein (history, emeritus, Univ. of Rhode Island; The Genesis of American Industry, 1870-1920) presents an engaging, annotated, and accessible portrait of 18th- through early 20th-century inventors and entrepreneurs who fashioned America into the world's economic powerhouse. Rather curiously inserting the device of "Ned," a fictional visitor to the major expositions in Philadelphia (1876), Chicago (1893), and New York City (1939), all of which educated the public on industrial plans and progress, Klein highlights the famous-Thomas Edison, J.P. Morgan, and George Westinghouse-and the lesser known-including Nikola Tesla, Samuel Insull, and Charles Coffin-while also surveying the proliferation of industry based on their inventions, notably the railroad, steamship, and electric motor. Given his greater focus on the late 19th century, Klein might best have concluded with the electric illumination displays of the Pan-American Exposition of 1901, but "Ned" doesn't go there. Although "Ned" is at the 1939 World's Fair, the author scarcely mentions the rise of the automobile, the greatest agent of change during the early 20th century. This book will especially satisfy new or younger devotees of American applied scientific and technological history. Recommended for public libraries.
—Frederick J. Augustyn Jr.

Kirkus Reviews
Business historian Klein (The Change Makers: From Carnegie to Gates, How the Great Entrepreneurs Transformed Ideas Into Industry, 2003, etc.) brings the steam and electrical power revolutions memorably to life. The author enlivens the narrative in two ways. First, he tethers it to three industrial exhibits-the Centennial Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia, the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago and the 1939 World's Fair in New York-all occurring within the span of a lifetime, each neatly showcasing for the common man (and the general reader) the successive fruits of the power revolution and together linking the steam to the electric era. Second, he sprinkles lively portraits of the uncommon men responsible for the stunning transformation in the way we live: James Watt and the steam engine, Michael Faraday and the electromagnetic motor, Thomas Edison and the incandescent lamp. Klein also tells the story of Edison's principal rival, George Westinghouse; the eccentric visionary Nikola Tesla; Samuel Insull, who figured out how to deliver electricity cheaply to the masses; and scores of lesser-known figures who played a significant role in the advancement of the technological revolution. In addition to his comprehensive discussion of the discoveries, inventions and improvements, Klein also explains the centrality of politics, finance and public relations to the development, marketing and widespread adoption of the many wonders coming from progressive workshops like Menlo Park. From steamships, locomotives and trolleys, to telephones, radios, record players and a host of household appliances, the era was packed with astonishing developments that came with dizzying speed. The authormakes room for a few cautionary tales about the blessings of this new technology, about the rampant materialism it helped inspire and about the damage inflicted during the rush to the future. For the most part, though, the book is a paean to the genius of an age not long past and a tribute to the men who made-far more than any politician or statesman-the modern world. An endlessly entertaining and informative treatment of a vast, sometimes difficult subject. Agent: Marian Young/The Young Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781596916777
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 6/1/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 560
  • Sales rank: 588,530
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 8.28 (h) x 1.51 (d)

Meet the Author

Maury Klein is the author of many books, including The Life and Legend of Jay Gould, Days of Defiance: Sumter, Secession, and the Coming of the Civil War, and Rainbow's End: The Crash of 1929. He is professor emeritus at the University of Rhode Island.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: A Show of Power: Philadelphia 1876 1

1 The Machine That Changed the World 14

2 Conquering the Waters 30

3 The Greatest Engine of All 51

4 In Search of the Mysterious Ether 71

5 Let There Be Light 98

6 A Covey of Competitors 118

7 The Light Dawns 136

8 The Pearl Street System 159

9 The Cowbird, the Plugger, and the Dreamer 177

10 The Alternative System 201

11 Eventful Currents 219

12 Gaining Traction 239

13 Competition and Electrocution 256

14 Money, Mergers, and Motors 279

15 A Show of Lights: Chicago 1893 300

16 The Niagara Fallout 324

17 Hard Times 345

18 The Future Arrives 366

19 Mastering the Mysteries of Distribution 395

20 The Empire of Energy 417

Epilogue: A Show of Possibilities: New York 1939 444

Electrical Circuits 453

Notes 457

Bibliography 511

Index 521

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