A unique report, heavily illustrated offering an inside view of the United Electric Light and Power Company in 1924 as it was well on its way to dominating power transmission in Manhattan. With four Manhattan maps, among them a monumental blueprint of the island’s electrical supply system.
A native of Maplewood, New Jersey, William Barry Leavens, Jr. (1904-1988), attended the Bordentown Military Institute, and matriculated at Lehigh University in the Fall of 1921, where he majored in electrical engineering. For eleven weeks during the summer of 1924, he worked as an intern at the United Electric Light and Power Company, along with five other students recruited by Lehigh alumni and Superintendent of the Transmission and Distribution Department Carroll T. Sinclair. Leavens worked at the Carl Fisher building at 56 Cooper Square, New York, where he was assigned with a rating of Engineering Assistant to the Planning Division.
Following this experience, Leavens produced this report for the benefit of future Lehigh interns, providing among other things useful details about accommodations at the Bronx Union YMCA and anticipated expenses (of $20 per week, against income of $25/wk.). In the process, however, he captured a pivotal moment in the development of both 20th-century Manhattan and, with it, the technology and engineering required for the affordable, practical, and safe electrical power.
As Leavens documents through an organizational chart and roster of officers, United was still functioning with relative independence, albeit as one of twelve affiliated companies controlled by Consolidated Gas Co. (the ancestor of the modern-day behemoth Con Edison). United was the primary provider of AC power to Manhattan while New York Edison dominated DC. United’s position was solidified with the development of Hell Gate station in 1921, at the time the world’s most powerful steam-operated power station. United steadily overcame the disadvantages of wide-spread distribution of AC, and in 1927 New York Edison threw in the towel and retired its DC service. According to one account of the company “Both past and recent histories document [the United] network as the first fully successful AC automatic secondary distribution network, the one that set the standard for all that followed.” (Cunningham, p. 96)
Working under the Superintendent of the Transmission and Distribution Department, Leavens was during the Summer of 1924 a conscientious and well-positioned witness to this sea change. His Report provides us almost a century later with photographs of the key machinery involved in this distribution solution, an engineering student’s explanations of troubleshooting procedures (such as how faults were located and handled), and—most dramatically—with a monumental blueprint map of Manhattan’s energy grid.
Contents of the Report
Leavens’ report is heavily illustrated and interleaved with dozens of items, including:
- A monumental folding blueprint map of the United AC network in Manhattan, ca. 17 ¼”h x 60”w, backed on linen, with the name of Mr. Sinclair penciled to verso;
- A detailed folding plan printed on linen of Circuit 136, as handled by the 187th Street station, with annotations in red ink, ca. 14.3/4”h x 16”w; and
- A smaller folding map, ca. 4 ¼”h x 15 ¼”w, photographically reproduced from a much larger blueprint and titled New York city load densities of the United Electric Light and Power Co. system.
- A large blueprint map (laid in loose), 20 3/4”h x 30 ¾”w titled Typical transmission feeders: substation transformer connections—system phase rotation and dated October 29, 1923.
- 11 captioned photographs of “United” facilities and equipment;
- Two United publications from 1924, being: The United news letter. Number 93 and a company brochure on the new Hell Gate Station;
- Published versions of two talks presented by United engineers at the 1924 A.I.E.E. convention in Chicago, being O. E. Shirley, A 35,000 kw. induction frequency converter: description, operating characteristics, and test data by O. E. Shirley; and A. H. Kehoe, Underground alternating-current network. Distribution for central station systems; and
- A voltage chart measuring the usage of the National Biscuit Company for April 2-3 (1924)
Intended for internal use, the four maps would have been produced in extremely small numbers. Various searches on OCLC have not identified any other examples, though given the lack of titles on two of the items this should be taken with a grain of salt. Of greater significance, perhaps, is that searches of both OCLC and the New York Public Library on-line catalog for maps related to United Electric Light and Power turn up a 1906 promotional map published by Ohmann, but no technical maps produced for internal use, such as those offered here.
Maps not in Haskell, Manhattan Maps or, so far as I can tell, OCLC. Background from Joseph J. Cunningham, “An AC Pioneer[:] United Electric Light & Power Company,” IEEE Power & Energy Magazine, May/June 2013, pp. 84-98 (a PDF of which will be supplied on request).
Front hinge tender, contents coming loose in places. Loose map with separations along some folds.