Please upgrade your browser to use Internet Explorer 9 or above. Internet Explorer 8 is no longer supported.

Hydropower Inventors and Pioneers

September 7, 2016

hydropower A Quick Look at the History & Innovators of Hydropower

Some of the first instances of hydropower occurred between 202 BC and 9 AD. The Han Dynasty in China records using vertical water-wheel powered trip hammers to crush grain.
Throughout our history with hydropower, there have been feats of never-before-seen innovations. All of these with one thought in mind, how to harness the energy of water and make it useful. Here are 10 of some of the world’s most significant hydropower moments.


Richard Arkwright used hydropower to setup Comford Mill to spin cotton in one of the world’s first factory systems.


Samuel Slate built the first water-powered cotton spinning mill in North America, based on Arkwright’s system. Slater memorized the design while in England and brought the knowledge to America in an act of industrial espionage. The mill, now a historical site, is located on the banks of the Blackstone River in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and was the first in a series of textile plants that dominated the southern New England economy for centuries.


James Francis devised the first modern water turbine, which is still commonly used today.

The Mid-1870s

Lester Allan Pelton created an impulse water turbine called the Pelton Wheel.


A dynamo driven by a water turbine provided a theater and storefront in Grand Rapids, Michigan with arc lighting.


In Niagara Falls, New York, a dynamo connected with a turbine using direct current provided street lighting forever cementing the use of direct current and hydropower.


The world’s largest hydroelectric power plant, Edward Dean Adams Power Plant, was constructed at Niagara Falls.


Victor Kaplan developed a turbine similar to a propeller with adjustable blades.


The Hoover Dam produced its first power output in 1937.


Present Day

Today, the world leader in hydropower in Brazil, allowing the country to maintain energy independence from the rest of the world. By 2011, Brazil provided more than 80 percent of its energy from hydroelectricity.

Innovations continue, tying hydroelectricity with solar and wind energy in terms of output. What new developments will the next century bring us in the world of hydropower? For more information on the history of hydropower, visit the resources below.

Author: Angelique C.